France reaches tender age

FRANCE: France's offshore wind potential is one of the best in Europe, with annual generation estimated at 90TWh. It has good deep-water ports and a long history of naval engineering. Yet the country has struggled to exploit this resource, lurching from one policy to the next while European rivals forge ahead. Now, though, the government is hoping to change the game by focusing on the industrial benefits of this burgeoning market.

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The other main driver is France's binding EU target, set in 2008, to generate at least 23% of final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. This will require around 6GW of offshore capacity and 19GW onshore. In recent years, however, onshore planning procedures have become increasingly onerous and opposition more effective. It had been hoped that going offshore would be a relatively painless route to large-scale wind plant, but the signs have not been reassuring.

France's first attempt to spark offshore deployment was a call for tenders for 500MW in 2004. A single project was selected, a 105MW facility from Enertrag and Prokon Nord. The industry blamed the poor result on flawed assessment criteria. The developers then had to go through a laborious permitting process while the regulations were still being formulated. When a permit was finally awarded in 2008, opposition groups launched a series of appeals, effectively killing it off.

Government vacillation

Meanwhile, in 2006, the government had scrapped the competitive tenders in favour of a premium purchase price, hoping to attract more interest. It set the tariff at EUR0.13/kWh for the first ten years, varying over the next five according to the number of operating hours. This was acceptable for large, well-designed projects on good sites, the industry said, but too low elsewhere. Despite this, by 2010 as much as 13GW was under development offshore as more developers entered the field.

Then the government suddenly reverted back to the competitive tenders in designated zones. Any of the 13GW of projects that fall within the zones are still on the table and some will be included in the next round of the tender. But the rest were mothballed. As the economic climate foundered and job creation grew in importance, the energy minister argued that tenders would help create an industrial base more readily by giving greater visibility and a stable framework. And, of course, emphasising the employment potential of offshore wind would help win over public opinion. The tenders launched in 2011 was designed with this in mind, calling for 3GW split between five projects, with winners selected primarily according to price, environmental impact and plans to establish local supply chains. Last April, the government awarded four projects totalling 2GW to consortia led by EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN) and Iberdrola (see table). The fifth was abandoned because the power price was too high, although it will be offered again in the next round.

The consortia now have 18 months to confirm the technical and financial feasibility of the projects. While they will be granted the right to operate and sign a 20-year power purchase agreement with EDF, they must still seek other authorisations, including the right to occupy the maritime domain. The industry fears this could lead to renewed court challenges from opposition groups and will be reyling on strong government support.

There is no doubt, however, that the bid allocations have galvanised the industry. Alstom, in partnership with EDF EN, says it will build four new factories to produce its new Haliade 6MW turbine, creating 7,500 jobs. Areva, with Iberdrola, plans two factories employing around 2000 people for its 5MW machine. Both will hope to win more orders in France and also have an eye on exports to keep their factories running.

France is hoping to forge ahead with game-changing floating turbine technology. Next year should see prototypes of two floating turbines in French waters: WinFlo, from Nass&Wind Offshore and shipbuilder DCNS; and the vertical-axis Vertiwind, developed by Nenuphar with engineering giant Technip and EDF EN.

In the meantime, the government says it is planning a second offshore request for tender by the end of 2012 and will achieve its 6GW target, though few now expect it to hit the 2020 deadline. Another question is whether the new socialist president Francois Hollande will stick with the policies; even if he does, there is still a long way to go before France's first offshore turbines start turning.

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