Contracts for two hundred megawatt

Contracts for 21 wind projects totalling 200 MW of installed generating capacity were announced last month by French utility Electricité de France (EDF). It was a far bigger selection than the 70 MW promised when this latest tender under France's EOLE-2005 program was released. EOLE-2005 is a government program run by EDF under which competitive tenders are issued for new wind plant, with the aim of installing 500 MW by 2005.

The tender results, unveiled at a wind conference in Dunkirk last month, indicate that EDF was not just blowing hot air earlier this year when it said that wind "will have a very important role to play" in future energy supply (Windpower Monthly, April 1999). Indeed, it seems that a serious desire for large scale wind development in France has finally broken free of the heavy hand of nuclear power, a desire now being fed by the growing public dislike of nuclear and the new found willingness of the state utility to give wind a try. At least many signs were pointing in that direction at the conference.

Hosted by the French agency for environment and energy management (ADEME), the event, subtitled "What wind policy for France?" attracted a number of notable officials, politicians and key players from EDF -- the surest sign that wind and renewables have won favour amidst the official cult of the atom in France. Some 250 delegates participated, representing most of the actors in the French wind business.

More spread out

The 200 MW tender result (table) shows that projects are no longer concentrated in the windy north and south -- Brittany now has four projects, Normandy two, and the Rh™ne-Alpes two -- although the southern Languedoc region still has half of the total. This is the base of developer Compagnie du Vent and Danish wind company Vestas, where they have scored a total of four contracts totalling 45 MW, plus two further projects in Brittany. Price in mainland France has been pushed down to about FFR 0.33/kWh (EUR 0.05/kWh) by the competitive bidding under the program, a very low level for wind according to most developers.

So far, Eole-2005 has led to 325 MW of contracts and another 100 MW tender is expected to this year. Only three wind plant, with a combined capacity of 19 MW, are so far in operation, two of them run by small wind turbine manufacturer Vergnet. Five projects totalling 70 MW have been thrown into limbo, mainly due to local opposition. Another 52 MW of projects on Corsica have also been put on hold, due to regional political problems there. All tender projects must be built in the three years after the tender, but ADEME's Jean-Louis Bal says some leeway is possible.

"So far, full failure of projects is rare and we expect a failure rate of less than ten percent due to difficulties with manufacturers and with construction permits," adds Bal. Industry representatives, however, are critical of the site permitting system. "The rate of failure could be closer to forty percent if the situation continues where there is no visibility for our industries," says Marc Vergnet.

Philippe Beutin of ADEME argues that planning rules actually favour local wind development in France. The 40,000 municipalities have a large share of local tax and most villages have less than 100 inhabitants. This means local authorities are motivated to develop wind plant because the villages benefit immediately from tax gains. And the close relationship between elected mayors and the small village populations can also mean fewer planning surprises than in Britain, where local government is more distant and where wind plant siting problems are legion.

Fishermen's protest

Two local wind controversies enveloped conference delegates, the most dramatic being a demonstration against a 7.5 MW offshore plant awarded a contract in the latest tender. It is to be built five kilometres off Dunkirk using 750 kW turbines from France's Jeumont Industry. The developer, Societe Anonyme d'Economie Mixte Locale (SAEML), under the wings of the Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais and EDF, has raised capital from big oil companies Shell and Total, partners in the project. The contract stipulates that turbine size can be upgraded to multi-megawatt and the site can expand over a larger area.

Although the sand banks off Dunkirk are not in designated fishing zones and boats are rarely seen in the area, trawler fishermen made themselves heard during the conference. At one point, they used their fishing boats to block the passage of ferries crossing to England from Calais. The demonstration lasted an hour and showed the difficulty of sharing the use of one of the busiest sea routes in the world. One fisherman also complained that money raised at sea does not become part of the local tax base, as opposed to land based wind projects. Amidst the tension, proponents of the offshore project from the Dunkirk municipality and the regional council decided to organise a trip for local fishermen to visit their colleagues in Denmark, where two demonstration offshore wind plant are turning and where plans for 790 MW of offshore wind are in the pipeline (Windpower Monthly, July 1999).

Green pricing

Meanwhile, delegates also found themselves embroiled in discussions about an experimental green pricing program for wind that EDF has proposed for the Dunkirk area. Opposition to the scheme was noisy, particularly from local green politician Daniel Halloo, in charge of energy and water. He was backed by environment minister Dominique Voynet, who attacked the scheme as "immoral" in expecting citizens to dig into their pockets to pay extra for green power when so much of their money in the form of government subsidies is already being poured into nuclear and coal. The green pricing scheme seems to have died as a result of the outcry.

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