"I think France should have the courage, the audacity to pass a short stage on land and then go straight to offshore," says Yves-Bruno Civel of the renewables monitoring organisation Observ'ER. "Why spend ten years developing on land with all the problems of the landscape? We can go straight to the sea."
In preparation, French environment agency ADEME commissioned consultants Espace Eolien Développement (EED) to do a series of feasibility studies of the four most suitable stretches of coast, three along the English Channel and Atlantic coasts and one in the Mediterranean. EED assessed sites where existing technology could be used as well as the longer term potential (up to 2015) for sites further out to sea. The surveys take into account meteorological and seismological conditions, shipping, fishing, tourism, and wildlife. It concludes by defining "macro zones" in which wind plant can be safely located.
The first will almost certainly be built in the extreme northeast of France off the coast of Nord-Pas-de-Calais département, where the survey proposes three macro-zones: Bassure de Bass, Dyck and Banc de Breedt with a total potential capacity of 775 MW. La Manche département in Basse-Normandie region, to the south, yields three macro zones -- Saint-Rémy-des-Landes, Flamanville and Saint-Marcouf -- for a total of seven wind plant of 35, 3 MW turbines with a capacity 735 MW. In Brittany the surveyors decided on four macro zones along the north coast: Ar Guern, Méloine, Plouézec and Grand Léjon. Taken as a whole, Brittany is estimated to have a potential 4824 MW within three kilometres of the coast.
Languedoc-Roussillon has the best land wind reserves in southern France and its 305 kilometres of Mediterranean coast along the Gulf of Lyon from the Spanish frontier to the Rhone delta is considered to have good offshore resources. Although the coast has three working ports, is important for fishing and tourism, and has several nature reserves, EED was able to identify six macro zones: Port-la-Nouvelle, Golfe d'Aigues-Mortes, Camargue, Vic-la-Gardiole, Sète Marseillan, Canet et Roussillon. The port of Sète, the survey writers estimate, could accommodate a small, shallow water wind plant of between 7.5-15 MW. In the short to mid term, assuming turbines of 3 MW standing in depths up to 30 metres, the potential for offshore wind in Languedoc-Roussillon is calculated to be 470 MW distributed over five sites, 3.5-5 kilometres offshore.
Weakness of the grid here may limit development, however. "Off Dunkirk and along the channel coast there is no problem because you have large industrial consumption on shore and greater grid capacity," says Michel Benard of national utility Electricité de France (EDF). "But in Languedoc-Roussillon we will have to build new onshore transmission lines."
ADEME stresses that detailed, site-specific planning will be needed before any wind farm is built within a macro zone and it urges that a pilot project of up to 25 MW be built to gather experience before creating giant offshore wind farms.
Shell's 100 MW
The first French offshore wind farm is still at least a year off. A semi-offshore wind turbine (standing in the sea but fixed to the land) is expected to be installed at La Rochelle next year, but the first large project is unlikely to be completed before 2004 at the earliest. The longest running project is the 7.5 MW Breedt wind farm, to be built in depths of 7-8 metres off Dunkirk by a consortium involving the regional government, a subsidiary of EDF and the oil companies Shell and TotalfinaElf. Some of the turbines are likely to be supplied by the French manufacturer Jeumont SA. In southern Brittany, meanwhile, Shell has presented a project for a 100 MW wind farm stretching from 1.5-6 kilometres off the Ile de Groix.
Before any project can reach fruition, maritime planning procedures will need to be devised and a pricing mechanism invented by the government. Current legislation offers a variable tariff to wind farms of less than 12 MW, but offshore projects will probably be built in response to a call for tenders.
Few people doubt that France will be investing heavily in offshore over the next decade. Meantime, spectators on both sides of the English Channel will be watching with interest as EDF (which has a stake in French terrestrial wind farms), gets set to build its first offshore wind farm off Norfolk, in Britain, not off the shores of France.