Already one of Europe's biggest growth markets for wind, France needs to boost its annual installations from 1 GW a year to 2 GW if it is to meet its 23% by 2020 target for renewable energy sources (RES). Under the target, France is aiming for renewables to supply 27-29% of its electricity, up from 11% in 2005 and 14% today. "France has a national plan and knows how to achieve it," says Andre Antolini of national association Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER). That plan was agreed by the Grenelle de l'Environnement, a national summit held in 2007. It calls for wind power to account for around 40% of the RES 2020 electricity goal, generating 55 TWh a year, up from just 5.6 TWh today. That requires installed capacity to rise from today's 3.4 GW to 25 GW - including 6 GW from offshore projects - over the next 11 years. If achieved, wind power will meet 11% of the country's total forecast electricity demand.
With 4 GW of wind projects already fully permitted and at least another 25 GW under development, the industry is ready to meet that challenge head on, notes SER. The government has already taken some practical measures to spur renewable energy development in the immediate future. This includes increasing the budget for overall energy spent this year by 5% to EUR20 billion, while over the next three years more than EUR26 billion will be used to implement the decisions coming out of Grenelle. In addition, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is promising that funding for renewable energy research and development (R&D) will grow to match that for civil nuclear research, an extra EUR1 billion has already been allocated for R&D over the next three years.
The main obstacle now is actually converting the decisions made by Grenelle into law and that is already proving difficult (Windpower Monthly, March 2009). One proposal requires each region to draw up a "climate, air and energy" plan, including "qualitative and quantitative targets" for wind development, but the government is struggling to get support for it in parliament. The regional plans would, the government says, be used to determine where projects can be built and identify where the grid needs reinforcing. The plans can expand on, but must be compatible with, any existing wind power development zones (ZDEs). Projects must be built within these zones if they are to qualify for guaranteed premium purchase prices offered under the country's renewable energy support system. The current regulations governing ZDEs may be modified, placing more emphasis on environmental criteria. The wind industry has been calling for such regional plans for years, but says they should not take too long to draw up nor create additional delays in the already lengthy permitting process.
More worrying for the industry is a proposal that would see wind plant treated as industrial "installations classified for the protection of the environment" (ICPE). Under this, wind could be subject to the more draconian regulations governing industries seen as the most environmentally polluting, although current discussions are centred on the possibility of introducing a less onerous ICPE. The proposal, which was rejected during the 2007 national summit but later revived, would "improve the regulatory framework and local consultation" for wind projects, says Jean-Louis Borloo, the country's environment and energy minister.
Treating a wind farm as an ICPE, Borloo says, is the answer to legitimate questions about how to improve the local acceptability and geographical distribution of wind power. The industry disagrees. The sector is already very tightly controlled in France, it points out, with developers having to consult 27 different administrations for each project. What the industry needs, it says, is a stable regulatory framework and less bureaucratic administrative procedures. Without that, France risks failing to meet its onshore goals under the 2020 target, it warns.
For offshore developers, the outlook is more positive. Offshore installations will not come under the regional ZDE remit. Instead, the government is establishing three special authorities, one each for the English Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, to identify areas suitable for development. Regulations for offshore wind will also be simplified, promises Borloo - the current complex permitting process has already seen the country's first planned project, a 105 MW offshore wind farm developed by Germany's Enertrag and Prokon Nord, fall one year behind schedule.
Jan Dodd, Windpower Monthly