The tender, announced by energy minister Ségolène Royal, applies to arrays of more than six turbines and will comprise six bidding windows of 500MW apiece.
The first will be conducted in 2017, with two each in 2018 and 2019, and another single window in 2020. The terms are still being finalised but the tender will probably be launched in late February or early March, said Marion Lettry, assistant executive commissioner of trade body SER.
Competitive tenders are being introduced as part of the transition to a market mechanism in place of the guaranteed premium purchase price, as required under EU guidelines on state aid.
The new system came into effect on 1 January 2017, following a transition period in 2016. Under the new system, projects of fewer than six turbines will not go to tender but will be eligible for a top-up mechanism, similar to contracts for difference.
The details are still being ironed out, but the government has proposed a reference price of €72/MWh for turbines with rotor diameters over 100 metres, and €74/MWh for those with under 80 metres, with a sliding scale between, and over a period of 20 years, instead of 15 years previously.
After a certain number of production hours, depending on the rotor size and wind resource, the rate will fall to €40/MWh for the remainder of the contract period. This is to allow for development of less windy sites and those where the air force imposes height restrictions, Lettry explained.
In addition, producers will receive a "management premium" of €2.80/MWh to compensate for the additional market-access costs.
In a separate move, the single environmental permit for onshore wind, which has been under trial since 2014, will become a permanent feature from 1 March.
The single permit, which covers up to 13 different authorisations, "is a very good thing because it allows a faster permitting process and means fewer appeals", Lettry said. Instead of being able to appeal each authorisation as previously, opponents can now only bring one appeal against the single environmental permit.
The impact of the trial period, and other measures simplifying the permitting system, can already be seen in the upturn in new installations in 2016. It proved a record year, with 1,345MW of new capacity connected to the grid, according to SER.
Nevertheless, various barriers remain. An announcement is expected soon about constraints surrounding military radar, and the whole issue of how repowering fits into the permitting procedure needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. "Repowering will be one of the big questions in 2017," said Lettry.