France repowering clarified, offshore simplified

FRANCE: The French government has passed a law designed to speed up the deployment of offshore wind power projects and issued guidelines to bring clarity for repowering onshore facilities.

French energy minister Nicolas Hulot clarified the permitting process for repowering onshore wind sites (pic: Nordex)

At the end of July, parliament passed a law establishing a "permit envelope" for offshore projects and allowing for the state to carry out a number of de-risking studies.

"It represents a real simplification," said Matthieu Monnier, head of offshore wind at French wind energy association FEE.

The "permit envelope" allows developers to modify the project after it has been awarded.

This means they do not have to lock in the technical choices, but can benefit from the best options available from a technical and environmental viewpoint when placing the orders.

This should help reduce costs and speed up deployment, as should the fact that the state will carry out the initial environmental impact studies.

The law also requires that the national public debate be held before the tender is launched, to help improve acceptability.

Further details will be contained in the implementing decree, expected towards the end of the year.

Onshore clarification

In a separate move, energy minister Nicolas Hulot issued guidelines to regional authorities on how to handle applications for the repowering of onshore wind projects.

New consents are automatically required if the number of turbines increases, the capacity exceeds 20MW or the height of the tower goes over 50 metres.

Any other changes have to be reported to the regional authorities, which must then decide whether the modifications are deemed "substantial" and therefore need new authorisations, taking into account aspects such as the effect on radar, noise levels, the environmental impact and other projects in the area.

The same rules apply to changes in new projects that have been permitted but not yet built, allowing developers to use the latest turbine models.

The guidelines "give more visibility, which is very important for the sector," said Pierre Bourdier, legal affairs and environment manager at FEE.

However, they "bring no real simplification and have no legal standing," he added.

"It seems likely that some developers will choose to apply again for all the authorisations because of the legal insecurity," agreed Paul Duclos, head of wind at trade body SER.

This may well put some developers off. It typically takes at least seven years to implement a project in France, at a cost of €80,000-150,000/MW, Duclos said, and around 70% are challenged in the courts, although repowering may attract less opposition.

A few projects have already been repowered, following the same process as brand new projects, but the volumes will become more significant in the next two to three years.

Over the next five years, around 350 turbines totalling 250MW will reach the end of their life in France, according to data from trade body WindEurope.

This could represent a repowered capacity of 300-500MW, WindEurope estimated, assuming 30-50% of the 250MW is repowered and based on using 4MW turbines.