France - Permitting progress gives room for hope

FRANCE: Installed capacity fell for the fourth year running in 2013 but France's wind power industry believes things might pick up slightly this year. For that to happen, however, a few crucial elements need to fall into place.

Planning ahead… Computer-generated image of Alstom turbine plant at St Nazaire
Planning ahead… Computer-generated image of Alstom turbine plant at St Nazaire

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First and foremost, uncertainty over the onshore tariff must be resolved. After the European Court of Justice ruled in December that the support constitutes state aid, the industry is now waiting anxiously for the European Commission to validate a new decree. If this fails to happen before the French authorities annul the current one, the sector risks being thrown into chaos.

On a more optimistic note, 2013 saw the removal of some major obstacles in the permitting process. These included scrapping the five-turbine minimum threshold per installation and the end of the wind-power development zones (ZDE). The ZDEs, within which projects had to be built to qualify for the guaranteed power-purchase prices, were particularly vulnerable to legal challenges.

In addition, a new decree will allow developers to request an extension to permits after three years if they are unable to start construction for reasons outside their control. This is designed to tackle the problem caused by long delays for grid connections. At the same time, the government has launched a three-year trial of a single permit for wind installations in seven regions. This will combine the siting permit with ICPE authorisations, which subject wind farms to strict environmental stipulations. The single permit aims to speed up deployment, reduce costs and strengthen the legal standing of the permit.

These moves should help reverse the slump that saw just 600MW installed in 2013, compared with more than 1GW in 2010. Total wind capacity on 31 December stood at 8.12GW, all onshore; the country needs to add 1.5GW a year if it is to meet its onshore target of 19GW in 2020.

While France has nothing yet turning offshore, development continues on 1.93GW awarded in a competitive tender in 2012. The four projects will start the permitting process this year, while work continues on various factories producing turbines being built by Alstom, Areva and their partners at St-Nazaire, Cherbourg and Le Havre. The results of a second tender, offering two projects of 500MW each, should also be announced this spring. On the policy side, a draft law on the energy transition, which foresees nuclear's share of the electricity mix drop from 75% to 50% by 2025, should be issued this spring. The government has also launched a process aimed at reforming the support mechanisms for renewable energies, the outcome of which could have profound implications for the wind industry.

Current political backdrop Left-wing government committed to reducing nuclear power in the energy mix. Has promised to simplify permitting for wind, but progress is slow

High point of 2013 Permitting reform sees end of five-turbine minimum and wind-power development zones

Low point Continued uncertainty over the legality of the onshore tariff

Key influencers Environment and energy minister Philippe Martin and minister for industrial renewal Arnaud Montebourg between them steer energy policy in France

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