France - Offshore growth will lead new build in wind market

FRANCE: Offshore developments will dominate the French wind-power scene this year after the government launched a 3GW tender for offshore wind power capacity last July. Prospects are less exciting for onshore wind, after another difficult year of ongoing changes to the regulatory framework that are threatening to derail the country's efforts to reach binding EU targets.

France, with its overseas territories, aims to have 25GW of installed capacity by 2020, including 6GW at sea. This compares with 6.72GW turning today, which is all onshore and includes 81MW in the overseas territories. The industry installed 954MW in 2011.

The offshore tender, offering 3GW across five zones along the Atlantic and Channel coasts, sparked a flurry of deals as major players sought strategic partners to strengthen their offer. Finally, in January, three consortia led by French firms EDF Energies Nouvelles and GDF Suez and Spain's Iberdrola submitted a total of ten bids. Areva, Alstom and Siemens will supply turbines.

Bids will be judged on the basis of price, industrial plans, environmental factors and the impact on other marine activities. The winners should be announced in April, but will not be confirmed until October 2013, after a period of risk assessment to confirm feasibility of the projects. In the meantime, the government plans to launch another tender for 3GW in April.

Manufacturing base

The government is counting on the tenders to create a local industrial base and thousands of jobs. Depending on the outcome of the bids, both Areva and Alstom have pledged to build factories in France. Areva will produce nacelles and blades in the port of Le Havre, while Alstom will roll out generators and nacelles at St-Nazaire and blades and towers at Cherbourg. All being well, Alstom should have an onshore prototype of its new 6MW turbine installed at its test centre near St-Nazaire by the end of March, followed by an offshore model in Belgian waters in the summer.

Nevertheless, France still has a long way to go before its first offshore project comes into service. While successful bidders will be granted the right to operate and to sign a 20-year power purchase agreement with EDF, they still have to seek authorisation, including the right to occupy the maritime domain. The industry fears that this gives plenty of opportunity for decisions to be challenged in the courts. Opposition groups are already marshalling their forces.

Even without any delays, given the constraints at some of the sites and the very tight timetable, few believe that France will achieve 6GW offshore by 2020.

While the onshore sector managed to add 1GW of newly installed capacity on the mainland in 2011, the industry fears a marked slowdown this year following a tightening of the regulations in 2010 and delays in issuing the necessary decrees. Most draconian is the stipulation brought into force last August making wind turbines subject to rules covering industrial installations that are considered to be a risk to the environment and public health. Among other things, the rules impose an exclusion zone of up to 30 kilometres around radars for industrial-scale wind-power projects.

In addition, each regional authority has to draw up a wind-power plan indicating where turbines can be installed. These plans were supposed to be completed by the end of 2011, but the date was pushed back to June this year. According to renewable-energy association SER, fewer than half the 22 regions will have their plans in place by then. If they are not issued by September, the regional prefect must take the final decision. Meanwhile, the system is blocked because many authorities are reluctant to approve projects, while developers do not know where to lodge applications. And, says, SER, while some wind-power plans out for consultation indicate ambitious targets, overall they will not be sufficient to ensure France meets its 2020 target.

There was, however, one bright note towards the end of 2011, when environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet announced a number of measures aimed at reducing the permitting process to one year, against an average four to five years at present. Among other things, she proposed one-stop shops in each region to coordinate applications and to give the authorities one year to reach a decision. Whether these measures will have much effect remains to be seen.