Gaining consent for French onshore wind projects is likely to become more difficult thanks to stringent amendments adopted by the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, in a rushed and often angry debate on the Grenelle 2 bill held in May.
The measures could seriously compromise the pace of wind power development, says the French Electricity Union (UFE), which represents producers and distributors. This will make it harder for France to meet its objective of 25GW of installed wind capacity by 2020, of which 19GW will be onshore. Ironically, Grenelle 2 was supposed to lay out exactly how the country will meet its targets. It is the second law to come from Grenelle de l'Environnement, a nationwide summit to formulate environmental policy.
The amendments are largely those proposed by the economic affairs committee under the chairmanship of Patrick Ollier. An opponent of wind energy, Ollier has said he wants to end speculation in the sector and its "anarchic" development. "It was a brutal attack," says Andre Antolini, president of trade association the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER).
However, a number of last-minute amendments by the energy and environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo helped salvage something from the proceedings. Antolini welcomed Borloo's interventions, saying that they "changed the tone considerably".
Grenelle 2 now stipulates that all wind farms must comprise at least five turbines. An earlier proposal for a minimum threshold of 15MW was withdrawn. In France, five turbines typically equates to around 10MW and, according to SER, over 25% of projects may now be jeopardised - and as much as 50% in some regions, such as Bretagne and the Pays-de-la-Loire. Larger projects are also more likely to attract opposition.
Furthermore, it will only be possible to install turbines in areas designated in the wind power plans currently being drawn up for each region. The clause originally stated that the plans must be completed by 2012, after which nothing could be built without a plan. However, Borloo extended the deadline to the end of 2012 and stipulated that central government will then step in if necessary.
Ensuring those plans are in place and not too restrictive is the next battle, says Antolini. Some plans issued so far designate large swaths of territory as unsuitable for development. "We fear their design may not fully reflect the wind energy potential at the regional level," adds Nicolas Wolff, president of the French Wind Energy Association (FEE).
As expected, turbines will also now be subject to the strictest regulations covering "industries classified for the protection of the environment" (ICPE), lumping wind in with nuclear power and potentially polluting industries. This requires specific authorisation for each plant, in addition to the public inquiry and impact study needed under current law.
To the rescue
SER estimated the new ICPE regulation, coupled with the regional wind power plans, could cut deployment to 400-500MW a year, compared to 1GW in recent years. However, again Borloo came to the rescue, forcing through an amendment that at least 500 turbines must be installed each year.
This represents roughly 1.3GW, which would allow France to meet its 2020 onshore target. There will also be a review of progress in 2013. This move shows a real political commitment to reach 23% of renewable energy in 2020, says Wolff, who believes that it brings business-case certainty to wind energy stakeholders and enhances financing possibilities.
Others, such as former environment minister Corinne Lepage, disagree. She adds that she did not know whether "to laugh or cry" when she learned of the 23% target.
The industry has one last chance that the bill might be improved. The text will now go to an inter-parliamentary committee to thrash out the differences between the assembly's bill and the less stringent version adopted by the senate in October (Windpower Monthly, November 2009). "Not 100% is lost," says Raphael Claustre, president of the Comite de Liaison des Energies Renouvelables, a French renewables network. But the outlook is decidedly uncertain.
There were one or two bright notes among the gloom, largely concerning offshore wind. The bill confirms that offshore projects will not be constrained by wind power development zones (ZDEs), within which projects must be built to qualify for the guaranteed premium purchase price. Nor will offshore installations require a siting permit under the urban planning rules; instead they will apply for a concession.
Just before the assembly debate, Borloo confirmed that the government will revert to competitive tendering for offshore wind and ditch the 2006 guaranteed premium price system (Windpower Monthly, March 2010).
So far neither approach has yielded results. France's planned first offshore installation, the 105MW Cote d'Albatre project chosen by public tender, is languishing in the courts. However, Borloo now finally hopes to get things moving with a series of three tender calls of 3GW each, combined with the simplified procedures.
Borloo will launch the first tender call in the autumn. The 3GW will be split between roughly ten zones identified as suitable for wind power in the new plans drawn up by the regional authorities around the coast. These consider all the technical, environmental and regulatory factors and are subject to public consultation.
Borloo will publish a list of the zones in the coming weeks and projects will be selected next summer based on the proposed purchase price and completion date. The contribution to developing an offshore wind industry, the involvement of local industries and potential for job creation will also be considered. The first projects are expected to start in 2012.
While welcoming the move forward, much of the industry fears that the timetable is wildly optimistic. Philippe Gouverneur, director of Enertrag France, which co-owns the Cote d'Albatre project, believes that building cannot start until at least 2015, as the detailed regulatory framework is not in place and selected projects will still have to go through the construction permission process and may be challenged.
In many locations, the grid will have to be upgraded for such large projects, while developers will also have to compete for supplies and services in a potentially booming offshore market.