Borotra's statements come on the heels of information released late last year by France's general director of energy, Claude Mandil (Windpower Monthly, February 1996). The decision to go ahead with a NFFO-like market stimulation programme was apparently inspired by a report by DIGEC, the electricity and gas regulator in the ministry of industry. This report has not been made public, but it was prepared following negotiations between Electricité de France (EDF), renewable industry representatives and officials from the energy ministry.
Few details have yet emerged of how the NFFO scheme will work. It is clear, however, that competitive bidding among renewables suppliers for a protected corner of the electricity market will be organised with the participation of national utility EDF and the French energy and environment agency, ADEME.
Meantime, Borotra is pushing hard to create a market in the Departements d'Outre-Mer, or French overseas regions, and in Corsica. These are areas where production of electricity is most costly for EDF. As well as raising rates of pay, he is introducing a requirement for Integrated Resource Planning (IRP). Both initiatives are to be in force by 1996. Even though IRP falls short of an open tender process for all new capacity, it could prove important for wind, especially on Corsica.
Here EDF has plans for a large combined cycle gas plant of 200-300 MW, requiring expansion of the grid. The wisdom of these extensive plans is already being questioned by politicians and wind could become a serious alternative. Winds on Corsica are excellent, according to French wind plant developer, Jean-Michel Germa, who is currently measuring the resource there. With a population of only 250,000, Corsica is one of the least populated territories of Europe, with plenty of space for wind plant.
Other French colonies to benefit from Borotra's plans are mainly in the Caribbean. Guadeloupe is the most promising of the French tropical islands. It is aiming to have 25% of its electricity demand met by renewables by 2000, a goal Marc Frager of the island's energy agency says is feasible thanks to support from the European Union, local authorities and the Conseil Régional. Already there is 6-8 MW of wind development in the pipeline on the main island of Grande-Terre near Anse-Bertrand, where developer SIIF of Paris seems to be occupying the inside lane. Wind development here seem the best option for Guadeloupe where most shores are already crowded.
Another island for potential development is La D'esirade which already hosts a cluster of small French Vergnet turbines with a total generating capacity of 144 kW. This is soon to be increased to 450 kW, couple to diesel generators. A new transmission line to the main island will allow wind power to be exported during high winds -- a safety valve enabling wind penetration on the system to be as high as 50%. "The plant withstood three tropical gales in the last year," says Marc Vergnet, who built the installation in 1992. His firm is also well advanced with projects on neighbouring Marie-Galante.
The outlook for other French colonies is not so bright for wind. Tourism will probably bar development on Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, while the high population density of Martinique makes it unlikely that wind turbines will be accepted. French Guyana has greater potential, but the region has more than enough generating capacity following construction of the huge Petitsault Dam project. La Réunion, a large French island in the Indian Ocean, has few windy sites and plenty of hydro potential. That leaves only tiny St-Pierre et Miquelon near Newfoundland in Canada with good prospects for wind development. Both Germa and Vergnet have already proposed projects for the island.
Other French archipelagos -- the Territoires d'Outre-Mer -- have semi-autonomous status. The islands in the Pacific, such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia, are served by private electricity production, leaving them untouched by Borotra's plans. Mayotte in the Indian Ocean has no electricity requirement while the three French islands in the Antarctic Ocean -- inhabited by scientists and penguins -- are no strangers to wind power. A ten year old French Aerowatt was taken over by Vergnet some years ago and a call for tender for more wind power is expected shortly.
All prospect of commercial development, though, depends on what Borotra means by rates of pay equal to consumer tariffs. The cost of producing power in the French colonies is as high as FRF 1.2/kWh, yet consumers do not pay more than the standard rate charged by EDF on the mainland -- a principle EDF has insisted upon, at great cost to itself. On the other hand, Borotra could mean that rates should equal the average cost of generation -- on the islands or on the mainland. A round of negotiations will be needed to settle these issues.
Meantime, a mini boom in wind development on the French islands is likely to continue. Almost unnoticed by the wind industry, a series of tax break incentives for investments in small wind and solar plant have already given this market a substantial boost. The tax shelter is already being attacked as a haven for owners of luxury homes and yachts in the colonies, but Frager of the Guadeloupe energy agency disputes this. He points out that the difficulties of building power plant in remote regions, including financing the risk of cyclones in the tropics, can often add 50% to their cost. "Realistic costs for large turbines here go up to FRF 9000-10000 per kilowatt," he says.