Energy chief ready to build French offshore legacy

FRANCE: With his eyes firmly on his country's target of 6GW of installed offshore wind power capacity by 2020, Jean-Louis Borloo, the French energy and environment minister, is optimistic about the prospects for offshore deployment.

"France is determined to achieve its objectives for 2020 and will devote considerable resources to this," Borloo says in an exclusive interview with Windpower Monthly. "Our country is also determined to turn offshore wind development into a showcase for green growth."

The government strategy centres around a competitive tender process. The first call for 3GW, which will be divided between roughly ten zones deemed favourable for wind development (see box, page 66), will be announced by the end of the year. Planning for these zones started early in 2009, when Borloo asked regional authorities around the coast to identify suitable areas for offshore turbines (Windpower Monthly, April 2009).

In addition to the potential wind resource and the depth of the sea bed, the planners had to take into account other aspects such as the state of the grid, the presence of radar, shipping lanes and fishing grounds. Grouping several projects should reduce grid connection costs. The zones "have been favoured for their technical characteristics as well as for the level of local acceptability", Borloo explains.

Green growth

The tender is designed to support the development of an offshore industrial sector in France and the skills that go with it. "The social and industrial quality of projects will be essential," Borloo says. The first tender call alone represents an investment of around EUR10 billion - a huge effort both for the French state and electricity consumers, Borloo admits.

In exchange, the government wants to see projects that create jobs and growth, the minister says. "Candidates will have to share their intentions and their engagement in terms of the supply chain, manufacturing, logistics and port utilisation," he explains. "They will also be expected to indicate their partnerships throughout the value chain, the mobilisation of smalland medium-size enterprises, the incremental jobs to be created, and the research and development (R&D) and innovation efforts."

Borloo says nearly all the necessary skills along the value chain already exist in France. The country's state-owned ports are motivated to support this industry, making the country a good investment prospect. "France will welcome industrial investments related to the offshore tender call with the best possible conditions," he says, citing measures to help local infrastructure projects and R&D funded by the Grand Emprunt, a national bond issue that raised EUR35 billion earlier this year. Of this, EUR2.5 billion will be channelled to renewable and decarbonised energy projects (Windpower Monthly, August 2010).

Selection process

Before any deals are awarded, a full risk assessment will be carried out and the project's proposed bid price must be judged feasible. "In case of failure, the relevant zone will be rapidly put back on the market through a new call that would take into account all the analysis previously performed," Borloo says. This should ensure that all the 3GW are fully built.

Under the current timetable, the successful bidders will be announced in early 2012, with construction to start three years later for completion by 2018. Most experts agree this is very ambitious, especially given the complexity of the permitting process in France and the possibility of local opposition. Cote d'Albatre, the only project retained after the previous offshore tender call in 2004, is still languishing in the courts (Windpower Monthly, March 2010).

On the positive side, lessons have been learned from that experience. "Administrative procedures have been significantly streamlined by the Grenelle 2 law," Borloo says, referring to a recent law that sets out how France will meet its renewable energy targets (Windpower Monthly, June 2010). The law states that offshore installations no longer require a siting permit under urban planning rules. Also, grid connectivity rules have been clarified, with developers now able to share the costs among adjacent projects.

Whether such measures are sufficient to enable the offshore wind industry to develop remains to be seen. France could achieve 6GW in 2020 if the conditions of the tender allow the rapid development of projects, says Jean-Mathieu Kolb, director of offshore projects at owner-operator La Compagnie du Vent, which has 800MW under development. This would include taking into account the maturity and progress of existing projects, facilitating administrative procedures, and considering both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of projects, he says.

The government certainly seems to be taking all these aspects into account, according to statements made so far. Now everyone is waiting for the official announcement to see what the future has in store.

French offshore development
Company MW
Enertrag 1,850-2,130
Nass&Wind Offshore 1,430
WPD Offshore 1,150
La Compagnie du Vent 807
Poweo 500
Neoen 550-650
Vent d'Ouest/Ventis 540
EDF EN 382
Maia EolMer 250-300
Iberdrola 120
Enertrag/ProkonNord 105
Eole RES 80-90


While French energy and environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo had not announced the final selection of zones for development (main story) at the time of going to press, some details have emerged.

The regional authorities in Brittany, for example, will propose a 195-square-kilometre zone off St-Brieuc for up to 500MW of installed capacity. It is made up of three sectors: the southern sector, closer to the shore and proposed by the government; the northern sector, proposed by local fishermen; and an intermediary sector linking the two.

Arguments are starting to surface. The fishermen say they will contest any development in the southern sector, which contains important fishing grounds. Instead, they favour the northern sector. But the authorities and industry fear that this area may not be economically viable at present, given sea depths of 33-36 metres, a tidal range of 13 metres and its distance from the coast.

The problems are worse further south, where the regional authorities in Poitou-Charentes have declared the whole maritime area incompatible with offshore wind, thanks to the presence of a special bird protection zone that covers 8,000 square kilometres. This is despite a letter written by Borloo in 2009, which stated: "The creation of a Natura 2000 site at sea does not in theory exclude the installation of a wind power plant in or near the site, provided that the impact study demonstrates that the project does not affect the conservation objectives of the site."

Sylvain Benoist, assistant offshore project manager at wind developer Enertrag France, says the industry wants a chance to carry out the more rigorous impact study required for a protection area. "If it is not OK, then we won't build. But if you exclude all Natura 2000 sites, it is a vast area," he says.

Authorities in the south-western region of Aquitaine are proposing a zone of 100 square kilometres off Hourtin, while the most favourable area in the Mediterranean seems to be off the coast of Languedoc-Roussillon, probably off Cap d'Agde, where up to 300MW could be installed.