Policy: Industry left bloodied but not beaten

FRANCE: Grenelle 2, the legal tool box which, among other things, lays out exactly how France is to meet its target of 25GW of installed wind capacity by 2020, finally became law last month after a long and difficult birth.

While the industry managed to secure a number of critical amendments, overall the new law will make it even more difficult to get projects built in France. Some predict new installed capacity could fall by as much as 50% from the present rate of around 1GW a year. Nevertheless, things could have been worse. "Despite the best efforts of a very powerful lobby which was at war with wind energy and wanted to stop it in its tracks, the wind industry is still alive," says Andre Antolini, president of the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER) trade association. Grenelle 2 entered the statute book in mid-July.

The origins of Grenelle 2 date back to 2007, when incoming French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched the Grenelle de l'Environnement, a national summit to formulate environmental policy. Three years later, this nationwide brainstorming session has resulted in five major laws, including Grenelle 2, which provide France with the legislative tools to continue its transformation to a low-carbon and environmentally sound economy, according to energy and environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who piloted the massive project. There is no denying Grenelle has led to significant achievements, not least in bringing a multitude of parties around one table in constructive debate. For the wind industry, however, the outcome falls far short of expectations.

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Things started well when the overarching first law, dubbed Grenelle 1, confirmed France's commitment to meet at least 23% of its final energy consumption from renewable resources by 2020. Grenelle 1 also increased research funding for clean technologies and required that each of the 22 regional authorities draw up a renewable energy plan indicating where turbines can "preferably" be installed.

The crunch came with Grenelle 2, when the economic affairs committee of the National Assembly, France's lower house, introduced a number of amendments which were "fundamentally anti-wind", according to Philippe Plisson, co-rapporteur of the committee, who resigned in protest. These included tighter regulation of turbine installation and a freeze on building after 2010 if the regional renewable energy plans are not in place. Most of these proposals were adopted by the National Assembly, although a number of last-minute amendments by Borloo helped limit the damage. Finally, the inter-parliamentary commission charged with thrashing out the law made a few more vital changes.

Nevertheless, the end result for wind is longer and more complex procedures which "could weaken the whole development of wind power", argues GDF Suez, France's leading developer. Not only is the industry already covered by one of the strictest regulations in Europe, but this is the third legislative change in seven years, the company notes. All of this could significantly slow the growth of wind power and jeopardise France's renewable energy target.

Also under threat are the 50,000 extra jobs the sector could create in France by 2020. To overlook this potential in the context of the severe economic crisis "seems incongruous and inconsistent with the difficulties of our country", comments GDF Suez.

Minimum threshold

The most damaging proposal introduced by the assembly was a minimum threshold of 15MW for wind power plants. While the industry managed to fight this off, a five-turbine minimum still stands. While slightly more flexible, the regulation could jeopardise over 25% of projects nationwide, according to SER. The figure is far higher in west France, where houses are widely dispersed. In the Mayenne departement in the Pays-de-la-Loire region, 81% of projects consist of fewer than five turbines. In nearby Calvados, in Basse-Normandie, it is 75%. The provision also makes it more difficult for local communities to launch and finance their own wind power projects, says Geoffroy Marx, project manager at Dutch developer Global Wind Power.

Grenelle 2 also stipulates that turbines can only be installed in areas designated in the renewable energy plans currently being drawn up for each region. While in theory the industry is in favour of regional plans, it argues that they should only be indicative. Some of the plans published so far exclude turbines from large swathes of territory.

Again, it could have been worse. The clause originally stated that these plans must be completed by January 1, 2012. After that, no turbines could be installed if there was no plan in place. However, the deadline has now been extended to end-June 2012 and central government will step in to ensure all the plans are published by end-September 2012 to avoid a moratorium.

Another welcome amendment states that, when drawing up the plans, the prefects heading up the regional authorities must include existing wind power development zones, known as ZDE. It is within these zones that wind farms must be built in order to qualify for guaranteed power purchase prices.

On the other hand, Grenelle 2 makes the regulations for ZDEs more stringent. Up to now, law dictated that the authorities must ensure the protection of the countryside, historic monuments and other outstanding and protected sites when deciding whether to approve a ZDE. Now they will also have to heed public safety, biodiversity and archeological heritage sites.

But there was good news regarding the proposal that turbines should not be installed within 500 metres of an area that could be designated for housing development. This has now been amended to apply only to those areas identified in the urban planning documents already in force.

The law still includes the provision that turbines will be subject to regulations covering industries classified for the protection of the environment (ICPE), lumping them in with industries with a proven potential risk to the environment and public health. The minister must issue a decree within a year detailing which regulations apply.

Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to simplify matters. The application of ICPE regulations is not only disproportionate. "It gives wind power a negative image without significant advantages in terms of environmental protection and public health," argues Claude Midi, director general of local developer and producer Eole Generation.

Not all bad

The law's main saving grace is that the crucial amendment introduced by Borloo still stands. This states that at least 500 turbines must be installed in France each year, with a review after three years. While it is not clear how this will be achieved given the other measures, the industry is pinning its hopes on the requirement - and on Borloo's determination that it will be respected. To drive the message home, in early June he sent a circular to the regional prefects, reminding them of the binding 19GW target of installed onshore capacity by 2020 and of the government's "determined and unambiguous support" for wind energy.

"The establishment of a new framework for wind energy should in no way lead to a slowdown in development," the minister wrote. He also gave a breakdown of the number of turbines to be installed per year to reach the target (see map, previous page). At the same time, he asked the prefects to submit within a month an assessment of the situation in their regions, covering the number of projects under development, the shortand long-term prospects, the state of the regional wind energy plans and what the prefect intends to do to "achieve a rate of development of wind energy consistent with the objectives of the Grenelle".

Which is all well and good. But there is no legal provision for forcing the prefects to install the turbines. And the indications are that the market is already slowing down. Constant changes do not help either. "The prefects are lost in a system which is too complicated and keeps changing," says Jerome Billerey, chairman of integrated wind and solar producer Aerowatt. "So they don't do anything."