Pleasant surprise for French market -- Targets and tariffs

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The normally sleepy summer months in France were interrupted this year by two government decrees on renewable energy. The first detailed new targets for electricity generation under the latest Pluriannual Investment Program (PPI). The second fixed the new tariffs at which national utility EDF guarantees to buy electricity generated from renewable sources. Reaction from the industry has been mixed.

The new targets for wind power came as a "pleasant surprise," says Marion Lettry of the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER). According to the decree (Windpower monthly, August 2006), the government expects France to build an additional 13,500 MW of wind power capacity by the end of 2010 and 17,000 MW by the end of 2015. Of this, 5000 MW will be generated offshore, with the first 1000 MW expected in the next four years. The previous target was for 8000-10,000 MW by 2010. In raising the target, the government has opted for one hard figure rather than a range.

Nobody is under any delusion the task will be easy. Even industry minister François Loos recognises the 2010 objective is unlikely to be met until 2013. Even this is ambitious, says the wind power lobby. As Jean-Yves Grandidier of the French Wind Energy Association (FEE) points out, the industry needs to build 3000 MW a year to reach the 13,500 MW target. At very best, just 1000 MW is likely to come on stream in 2006, while an estimated 3000 MW of projects are blocked because of concerns over supposed radar interference (Windpower Monthly, April 2006).

Grandidier estimates it may be possible to achieve 8000-9000 MW by 2010, but only, "If all the regulations and the administrative systems are working together in favour of wind and if solutions are found to the radar and the noise problems." In mentioning noise issues, Grandidier is referring to the French medical academy's call for a ban on all large wind turbines in the vicinity of residential areas until potential health dangers from low frequency noise have been assessed (Windpower Monthly, June 2006).

Given solutions to the current barriers, Grandidier believes 17,000 MW by 2015 is attainable. The new targets demonstrate the "essential role wind power has to play in helping France meet its EU objectives."

Surprisingly, the PPI foresees France, a country heavily reliant on nuclear power, adding only 1600 MW of nuclear capacity and 6100 MW new fossil fuel generation by 2015. This is not to say the country has changed its mind about nuclear power, says Hélène Grassin of Greenpeace France. The government's global energy scenario is still firmly rooted in nuclear, but its building program for replacement of nuclear plant will not get going until 2020, says Grassin.

As expected

While the targets were a surprise, the revised tariffs are much as earlier reported (Windpower Monthly, July 2006). On the positive side, the 1500 MW threshold for purchases of output from wind plant at premium rates has been removed. Furthermore, the premium purchase price is now fixed for the first ten years of operation rather than just five and the rate at which the tariff falls each year is now 2%, as opposed to 3.3%, for plant built after January 1 2008.

The actual level of the tariff is more contentious. The rate is set at EUR 0.082/kWh for onshore plant for the first ten years. After ten years, the rate varies according to the productivity of the site between a low of EUR 0.028 for plant operating for an average of 3600 hours or more and a high of EUR 0.082 for 2400 hours or less. The rates are reviewed each year to take account of inflation.

Low wind ruled out

As Loos explained in June, the new tariff structure has been designed to favour sites with high or average wind speeds. Comparing the tariffs, says André Antolini of SER, shows the new framework is better in every case from 2200 hours and above, and especially in the first ten years. By contrast, the rate applied to low wind speed sites is disappointing. SER estimates that sites with wind speeds under 6.7 m/s (equivalent to 2000 hours operation at full load) will no longer be viable, particularly given the present cost of wind turbines.

The tariffs were calculated on the basis of an acceptable return of at least 8% per project. But the way the tariffs work, says SER, means that the return on less windy sites is below 4%. Since many of the best sites have already been developed, it is likely that there will be fierce competition for those with average wind speeds, while some projects at the lower end may well be abandoned.


The same basic structure applies to offshore development, though in this case the tariff is set at EUR 0.13/kWh for the first ten years. The rate then varies between EUR 0.03/kWh for plant operating 3900 hours or more and EUR 0.13/kWh for 2800 hours or less. The fixed purchase price system will replace competitive tendering.

On the whole, the industry says the offshore rates will not affect offshore development of any scale. Jean-Marc Armitano of Eole-RES, the French subsidiary of Britain's Renewable Energy Systems, says the rate of decrease is too steep; instead, the higher rate should apply up to at least 3000 hours, maybe even 3200, he argues. For Jean-Michel Germa of French developer La Compagnie du Vent, the tariff is acceptable for well-designed projects on good sites. Also offshore there will probably be some screening of projects in the light of the new tariffs.

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