Pilot project of giant turbines creeps closer -- Starting big off France

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The sight of wind turbines off the coast of France edges closer, with onshore work due to start this summer on the 105 MW Veulettes-sur-Mer project in the English Channel developed by Germany's Enertrag and Prokon Nord. The developers, however, still have to secure the all-important siting permit. It is expected to be issued in the spring, although opponents could delay proceedings. Enertrag is aiming to install the first seven Multibrid 5 MW turbines as a pilot phase this autumn, with the remaining 14 following in 2009.

As France's first offshore installation, the project has provided a "learning process" for both the local wind industry and the authorities, says Enertrag's Guillaume Fagot. Everything has taken much longer than expected since there were no real procedures in place for offshore wind and those that were applied were unnecessarily burdensome. The Veulettes project has been submitted to eight different public enquiries concerning the right to use the sea bed, the right to lay the connecting cable and so forth, many of which seemingly covered much the same issues.

Clear and less onerous guidelines for future offshore projects are high on the industry's wish list. These, says the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER), an industry lobby group, should establish how to define a maritime wind power development zone, similar to the guidelines for designating wind development zones on land. The procedures should also make clear exactly how to calculate and distribute the local taxes accruing from offshore wind plant and how to handle the issue of potential interference with radar, among the many grey areas remaining.

SER further recommends setting up a one-stop shop for applications and that the cost of offshore grid connections should be borne by the grid operator, as in Germany, and not the plant owner. In this way, other users would also have access to any new wires.

A second wave of offshore projects is waiting in the wings. The most visible is a 705 MW installation proposed by La Compagnie du Vent, now majority-owned by Suez, also in the English Channel. La Compagnie du Vent is waiting to hear the outcome of its appeal against the decision by the prefect heading up the Seine-Maritime département to reject the project because of the presence of a World War II minefield, and also to hear if its amended proposal has been accepted (Windpower Monthly, July 2007).

Furthermore, Total, Shell, EDF Energies Nouvelles and Eole-RES, a subsidiary of Britain's Renewable Energy Systems, all have offshore projects in various stages of development, while Germany's WPD recently announced plans to install up to 250 MW off Calvados, also on the Channel coast. Though only at the proposal stage for now, WPD has set up a subsidiary, WPD-offshore France, to work with local fishermen and other interested parties to flesh out the details.

Nothing major is likely to happen, however, until the first phase of Veulettes-sur-Mer is up and running and clear administrative procedures are in place. The slow progress makes France's unofficial target of 1000 MW of offshore wind by 2010 look unreachable and 4000 MW by 2015 increasingly ambitious.

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