France dips a foot in the sea

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The first French semi-offshore wind turbine -- its base submerged only at high tide -- will be installed at La Rochelle next year. It may be a tentative foot in the water but at least it is a start for a country which has excellent wind resources, with estimates of 90 TWh a year from offshore wind, but lags behind its neighbours on the policy front.

Offshore preparations include wind mapping of the surrounding seas (Mediterranean, Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel) by wind consultancy Espace Eolien Développement on behalf of environment agency, ADEME. "Macro-zones" have been identified for potential wind farms, and private consortia have announced several tentative projects.

Crucially, however, there is no legal or administrative framework to allow wind farms off the French coast and no pricing framework for power produced. Both these stumbling blocks are expected to be dealt with in a forthcoming decree, which will set out the government's strategy for increasing capacity by 2007.

Offshore can be expected to take a large share of the French market in the medium term because turbine siting in the French countryside has become a sensitive issue. The country's guaranteed price regime dictates that terrestrial wind farms must be kept small scale, with the cap at 12 MW.

When it comes, the first offshore plant will almost certainly be built in the north-east of France, off the coast of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Not only are sea conditions here suitable -- with strong winds and less pressure from fishing, conservation and tourism concerns than the Mediterranean -- but there is good onshore infrastructure with strong grid connections. ADEME would like to see a pilot project no bigger than 25 MW as the first step in order to gather experience and data.

All the main developer consortia working in France at present have expressed an interest in offshore development, including EOLE-RES and Jeaumont. Both Shell and TotalfinaElf are also keen to apply their offshore know-how to the wind industry.

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