Under rules issued in late August, French wind-power plant will be subjected to a strict environmental-protection regime that includes tough exclusion zones from radars. The government decree implementing last year's Grenelle 2 law stipulates that all wind turbines with a tower height of more than 50 metres - and those above 12 metres installed in plant with a capacity of 20MW or more - must seek "authorisation". This is the strictest level of compliance under the so-called ICPE regulations, which cover industries classified for the protection of the environment. Plant under 20MW capacity with turbines 12 to 50 metres tall have a simpler "declaration" procedure.
Turbines subject to the authorisation provisions must be at least ten to 30 kilometres from meteorological radars, depending on the type of radar, at least 15 to 30 kilometres from civil aviation radars and ten to 20 kilometres from coastal radars. The industry estimates that some 3GW of projects are being held up by problems with radars, half of them meteorological.
The rules are waived if developers obtain the written agreement of the relevant radar operator. Because military radars are deemed not to be significantly affected by turbines, it is up to the developer and the military authorities to come to an agreement.
In a concession to the wind-power industry, the distances specified in the decree will be reviewed within 18 months of any significant advance in radar technology. Wolff hopes that Meteo France, the French national meteorological service, will eventually agree on acceptable solutions.
The industry won a concession regarding financial guarantees to cover the dismantling of wind farms. The government had indicated operators would have to deposit EUR50,000 per turbine in cash in a designated bank before the plant came into service. The regulations now state that the sum can be in the form of a bank guarantee. Plant already operating must conform within four years.
Disagreements remain over the effect of the new rules on French wind power. According to environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the regulations "will reduce the permitting process to one year for the vast majority of projects" and spare them "from ever-longer procedures and increased litigation at the local level".
But the industry believes the changes will lead to more litigation, not less. "The ICPE regulation opens a new opportunity to launch an appeal against a project," said a spokesperson from renewable-energy trade association SER. While roughly 30% of projects go to appeal, around 90% of those are approved, suggesting that most appeals are unjustified, SER pointed out.
"The process is too heavy, too slow and not working," Wolff argued. To reach its target of 19GW of onshore capacity by 2020, France needs to increase its build rate from around 1GW a year to 1.3GW. Given the accumulation of administrative layers, "this is not going to happen", Wolff said. According to SER, the regulations add yet another layer to an already onerous permitting process, saying it can take up to eight years to get a permit in France, against an average four to five in the rest of Europe.