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Pragmatism enters tortuous debate -- Restrictions on size lifted

In the latest battle over the country's draft energy law, the French Senate has voted unanimously against the 20 MW minimum size requirement for wind power plant to be eligible for fixed premium purchase prices being introduced by the National Assembly (Windpower Monthly, May 2005). Jean-Marc Armitano of the French Wind Energy Association (FEE) welcomes the Senate's clear rejection of the "universal threshold."

Instead, the Senate proposes that local district authorities decide if a lower size limit is appropriate on a case-by-case basis and, if so, at what level it will be set. This will work through the mechanism of "wind power development zones" (ZDEs), also proposed under the draft law in response to very strong fears voiced in the National Assembly that wind turbines will otherwise be scattered throughout the countryside.

If the law is passed, district authorities will be able to delimit areas suitable for wind power development with the approval of the regional authorities and the departmental landscape commission, the Commission Départmentale des Sites, Perspectives et Paysages. The commune will be able to stipulate what if any size limit will apply.

Wind plant built in a designated ZDE will be eligible for the preferential wind power tariff. To allow time for ZDEs to be established, the draft law allows a two-year transition period before the new regulations come into effect. During this time, projects up to 12 MW will be eligible for the premium tariff as long as they have obtained a power purchase certificate and have requested siting permission. Twelve megawatt is an existing upper size limit if projects are to qualify for the premium tariff.

Another important initiative contained in the draft law is the setting up of regional wind targets, something for which the industry has lobbied long and hard. Armitano believes they will provide regional authorities with an important tool. Overall, he says, the proposed structure is not perfect, but it is "the best that can be obtained from parliament at this stage."

The draft law will now go to a joint commission composed of seven deputies (members of parliament) and seven senators to thrash out a final version. The commission is expected to start work early June. If it can not reach a consensus, the bill will go back to parliament. Even if all goes smoothly, the law is unlikely to enter the statute books before July.


Meanwhile, 91% of French people are in favour of wind power, according to a Louis Harris opinion poll conducted in April and commissioned by advisory body Rhônalpénergie-Environnement to coincide with the Senate debate on the draft law. It is the latest in a string of polls over recent years confirming such strong public support for wind power.

Over 60% of respondents feel turbines do not disfigure the countryside. Nearly 40% disagree, however, particularly people aged 50 years and above. Furthermore, close on half those polled consider the development of wind energy in France is not properly controlled. By far the majority feel it is right that local communes together with the regional authority -- rather than the overarching department -- should decide whether to allow wind power plant in the area.

There is a marked preference for small projects: over 40% are in favour of installations of ten turbines or less, while around 18% feel only stations over ten turbines should be allowed; nearly 30% are prepared to accept any size. If the development was close to their homes, over two-thirds say they would prefer a small rather than large installation. That still leaves over 16% willing to accept large wind power stations in their neighbourhood.

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