National debates for French projects begin next month

Project companies created for EDF's three offshore wind farms

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The timetable for government-sanctioned public debates about the four offshore wind power projects awarded by the French government last April has been released. All of the debates will begin next month and end in July.

Such debates are a requirement for all major infrastructure projects costing more than €300m and deemed to be of 'national interest' by the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP). They are designed to ensure the public is kept fully informed of project plans and that it can voice its opinions. The CNDP manages the debates itself, rather than responsibility resting with project developers, as is the case in the UK.

Each of the four 450-500MW projects will be subject to a series of public meetings to be held within a certain radius of the project site. Issues on the agenda include on- and offshore environmental and landscape issues as well as impacts on fishing, tourism, navigation and jobs. The public will be able to ask questions of independent experts and those invited by the developer. Videos and transcripts of the meetings will be available online.

All three of the projects led by EDF will see their public debates begin on 20 March and end on 20 July, while the debate for Iberdrola and Eole-RES' Saint Brieuc wind farm will begin on 25 March and end on 24 July.

While the results of the public debates are not binding, they may prompt developers to amend their projects. This was the case with the only public debate held to date for a French offshore wind power project. In 2009, a public debate took place about a proposed 700MW project earmarked for waters off Le Tréport and developed by La Compagnie du Vent, a subsidiary of GDF Suez.

The debate led to changes in project plans, but the wind farm was never built and the site was subsequently put up for tender during the country's first offshore wind tender. In the end, the French energy ministry rejected the only bid for the site, submitted by GDF Suez, on cost grounds. Last month, it confirmed that Le Tréport will be offered again in the second round .

In preparation for its 2009 debate, La Compagnie du Vent took the four commissioners tasked with leading the process, local fishermen and journalists on fact-finding trips to offshore wind projects in Denmark. The company estimated that it invested several hundred thousand euros in the preparation, logistics and organisation of the debate. It is not clear yet whether any of the consortia developing the four projects now under scrutiny will undertake similar fact-finding trips.

Documentation concerning the debates reveals that Eolien Maritime France, a consortium led by EDF Energies Nouvelles, has set up three companies, each responsible for a single project. Eoliennes Offshore des Hautes Falaises will oversee the project off Fécamp. Three companies hold equity in the 498MW Fécamp project: EDF, Dong Energy and WPD Offshore (30%). Meanwhile, Eoliennes Offshore du Calvados is the company created to develop a 450MW wind farm off Courseulles-sur-Mer. Once again, the same three companies hold stakes, with WPD Offshore's equity lower, at 15%.

A third company, Parc du Banc de Guérande, is responsible for the 498MW project off Saint Nazaire, with just EDF and Dong sharing ownership.

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