The problem dates back to the spring, when an anti-wind group challenged the tariff on the grounds that the government had not previously notified the European Commission (EC). The case was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which is not expected to reach a decision before next summer. Meanwhile, bank loans have effectively dried up, despite government reassurances that the existing tariff remains in force pending the ECJ ruling.
Given that the ECJ is likely to uphold the appeal, industry representatives are now in urgent talks with the government to find a solution. The preferred strategy is to issue a new decree and send it to the EC for approval. If the government waits for the ECJ, it will be too late for some companies, warned Nicolas Wolff, president of FEE.
Uncertainty over the tariff is not the only problem besetting the industry. It is also struggling against a raft of complex and sometimes conflicting regulations. On this score, there was better news for the sector in early October, when the National Assembly, France's lower house, approved a number of measures aimed at simplifying the permitting process.
Most important was the move to scrap the wind power development zones (ZDE), within which turbines must be built to benefit from the tariff. Instead, they will have to be located in areas designated as favourable in the regional wind-power plans currently being finalised. Not only do the plans make ZDEs redundant, but ZDEs are vulnerable to legal challenges.
The assembly also approved the removal of the minimum threshold of five turbines for wind installations, which has hit projects in areas with widely dispersed rural populations, and a special exemption allowing export cables from offshore sites to pass through "remarkable areas".
The draft law was scheduled to go to the Senate at the end of October, where it may face a rough ride. The right-wing UMP and far left Front de Gauche walked out of the assembly debate, protesting that the measures would transform France into "an enormous fan".