Hollande pledges permitting reform

FRANCE: It could be good news for the wind industry if socialist candidate Francois Hollande, the current front runner, wins France's upcoming presidential election.

The election begins in late April with a conclusion due no later than early May. Speaking at the conference of renewable-energy association SER in February, a spokeswoman for Hollande said he would abolish the five-turbine minimum threshold for wind-power plant and exempt turbines from domestic environmental protection regulations. By contrast, environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said that while she recognised the wind permitting process needs simplification, she believed the regulations will help reduce delays.

Hollande's stance chimes with recommendations contained in SER's white paper on renewable energy, aimed at informing presidential candidates. The paper argues that France could meet its wind-capacity target of 25GW by 2020 and even reach 55GW by 2030 if it acts quickly to "loosen the administrative yoke". Among other things, SER's report calls for an end to the five-turbine rule and redundant procedures, such as the wind-power development zones, which duplicate the new regional wind-power plans. SER also deplores the number of unwarranted appeals against projects and the increased fiscal burden on wind plant. All these factors contributed to a drop in the number of siting applications last year, according to SER. Recent figures from transmission system operator RTE support SER, showing that the rate of new wind builds fell by nearly 30% in 2011.

Nuclear investigation

The future of nuclear power has also been in the spotlight, thanks to a recent report by French government auditors assessing for the first time the full cost of France's nuclear programme, from early research to decommissioning and waste storage. It reveals that nuclear power has cost France EUR188 billion to date, far more than previously acknowledged. The report also estimates that operating costs could double to EUR70-90/MWh in the medium term, roughly equal to the current cost of onshore wind. "The myth of nuclear as a cheap energy is crumbling," remarked green party presidential candidate Eva Joly.

Given the nation's financial situation and its ageing nuclear fleet, the French government has two choices, SER's report concludes: to prolong the life of nuclear reactors beyond 40 years or to ramp up deployment of renewable energies. Either way, significant investment will be required.