Is a storm brewing over France’s onshore industry?

Recent anti-wind outbursts have sent alarm bells ringing throughout the industry.

French energy and ecology minster Elisabeth Borne (pic: Aron Urb / EU2017EE)
French energy and ecology minster Elisabeth Borne (pic: Aron Urb / EU2017EE)

Just as the industry was starting to relax over having the support and visibility needed for development, the government seems to have had a change of heart with several politicians recently voicing scepticism.

"We have been very surprised by what we have been hearing recently, it doesn't add up with the work that is going on behind the scenes," a spokesperson for France's wind trade body FEE told Windpower Monthly.

President Emmanuel Macron first set alarm bells ringing in January, when he said the "consensus around wind was definitely getting weaker" in France.

Then in February, energy minister Elisabeth Borne launched an unexpected attack on onshore and its "chaotic expansion".

"It is a major issue, and I have told the industry: On the one hand, there is the problem of wind farms setting up too close to historic monuments – I don't even know how it has come to this.

"And on the other, in some areas, the spreading of smaller projects of all shapes and sizes leads to visual saturation and a feeling of being surrounded. It is absolutely unbearable," she said.

The comments have ruffled the industry, as they are at odds with France's official position and the targets laid out in its new energy roadmap, the PPE, which would more than double onshore capacity by 2028.

As a result, for the first time in eight years, French wind energy association FEE held a joint press conference with the SER, France's renewable energy association, to put pressure on the government.

"For us who welcomed the PPE's objectives, it is vital for the development of the industry that the targets and the means to reach them are in line," SER president Jean-Louis Bal said at the event in late February.

FEE suggested the recent criticisms may be politically motivated, with municipal elections taking place in March and regional elections following next year.

This political rhetoric can be harmful. The industry fears it could influence the heads of France's administrative regions who award permits.

Despite the attacks, the FEE praised the collaboration between wind industry associations and the government.

On 2 March, both parties met to find ways to improve the acceptance of wind through a working group launched by Borne in December.

"We fully support Elisabeth Borne, who is very knowledgeable, and we will continue to work together," the FEE said.

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