Permitting remains problematic -- Failure rate rises

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The number of applications for wind project siting permits increased in France last year, but a higher proportion were rejected and the administrative process took longer than ever. These are the main conclusions to be drawn from the latest summary of wind project permitting activity issued by the French ministry of the environment, ecology and sustainable development for the year ending February 1, 2007.

On that date, 900 applications for a combined capacity of 5171 MW of wind development were in the processing system compared with 661 applications representing 4651 MW a year earlier. Siting permits for 292 projects totalling 1480 MW were granted, while 182 permits representing 750 MW were rejected, a failure rate of around 33%. This represents a marked reversal of the trend over the previous two years, when the rejection rate dropped from 27% in 2004 to 22% in 2005 (table).

Rates of refusal varied widely across the country. Worst offender for the second year running was Provence-Côte-d'Azur, which rejected 95% of megawatts applied for, while Languedoc-Roussillon, Haute-Normandie and Picardie climbed back up the list to register rejection rates of 64%, 45% and 45%, respectively. On the other hand, the Centre and Poitou-Charentes regions brought their rates down by between a half and a third to 24% and 11%, respectively. Landscape issues and the protection of flora and fauna were the most common grounds for rejection.

On the positive side, in 2006 the number of appeals against administrative decisions dropped to a record low of 14%. Here again, landscape issues were cited in the majority of appeals, alongside procedural matters. Of those appeals which did go to court, the judge upheld the administrative decision in 60% of cases, consistent with the rate in 2006. The bad news is that administrative authorities took 13 months on average to process applications, compared to nine months in 2005 and eight in 2004; the legal limit up until July 2007 was five months. The time taken to give a decision, however, varied widely across the country, from a mere four months up to 23 months in the worst cases, which largely corresponded to those départements reporting very high numbers of applications. Inadequate impact studies, especially regarding birds, noise and the landscape, were also cited as causing delays.

Somewhat surprisingly, the survey revealed that the average rated capacity of turbines installed in 2006 fell to 1.8 MW from 2.2 MW the previous year. This was a result of the relatively large number of developments composed of 750 kW units.

The survey does not yet reflect the identification of wind power development zones (ZDEs). Although they were introduced in 2005, the ZDEs only became mandatory in July 2007; from that date only wind plant built within a ZDE are eligible for the government decreed fixed purchase price for wind.

The survey does reveal, however, 18 ZDEs representing 602 MW had been created by February 28, 2007. On that date, 63 proposals for 4142 MW were under construction and at least another 86 zones under consideration; the largest single ZDE was for an installed capacity of 315 MW. Only five applications representing up to 132 MW had been rejected, mainly on the grounds of the small size of the zones proposed, which were judged incompatible with coherent land management, one of the criteria to be considered under the law.

On average it took five and a half months to process a ZDE application, just under the legal limit of six months. A third of this time was spent on consulting neighbouring communes and on seeking the view of the authority responsible for "nature, landscape and sites of interest." There had been just two appeals contesting the creation of a ZDE, both brought by local residents, and one appeal against a rejection brought by a landowner.

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