More than enthusiasm needed

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France is back on the wind power map. With its first wind farm now up and running in the south of the country and plans for a second in the north this year, interest in wind energy is growing in a country long dominated by nuclear power.

But the new found enthusiasm is not being led by Ademe, the French Agency for Environment and Energy Efficiency, whose funding declines in 1994 to an all time low. Instead it is being pushed from behind by regional authorities, many of which include newly-elected greens. At Ademe's annual Contractors Seminar, held in Dunkirk in November, national and local officials were in attendance for the first time, listening to presentations on technology advances by blade manufacturer Atout Vent and Onera, the French aerodynamics research centre.

Significantly, local government is involved in not only the development of France's first wind farm in the Tramontane wind corridor of the western Mediterranean, but also in advanced plans for a second wind farm in the far north at Dunkirk. These projects are being developed by two different, and fiercely competitive, companies. The Tramontane wind farm at Perpignan, a project of four, Vestas V39 500 kW machines from Denmark, was brought on line by local company Tramontana, headed by Jean-Michel Germa. The project is financially backed by the local Regional Council as well as by the European Union (formerly the European Community) and Ademe. For the past two years, Tramontana has been racing for wind energy honours against Espace Eolien Developpement (EED) of Dunkirk, led by engineer Philippe Bruyerre and his team. With the September inauguration of Tramontana's four Vestas turbines Germa is delighted to have earned the accolade of being France's first wind farm developer. The earlier race in 1991 for France's first grid connected turbine had the companies running neck and neck, with both erecting turbines in the same week. EED connected a 300 kW HMZ WindMaster at Dunkirk and Tramontana a Vestas 220 kW at Port-la-Nouvelle near Perpignan and the Spanish border.

The EED project is now being extended by nine HMZ WindMaster 300 kW turbines, due on line in the autumn close to a giant steelworks near Dunkirk harbour. Like Tramontana's group of turbines, the project has strong local backing -- the Regional Council of Nord-Pas de Calais is putting up one third of the required cash. National utility Electricité de France (EdF) is also backing the scheme, the first time it has been financially involved in a wind project. It is also of note that the Regional Council has supported local wind research with FRF 5 million.

But enthusiasm is not enough on its own if wind energy is to get going in France. Money is also required. Wind proponents are therefore alarmed that EdF seems to be planning to decrease the payment for wind produced electricity by up to 4% less than the current FRF 0.29/kWh. It is expected that the so called A5 tariff, on which payments for wind are based, will stabilise in 2005 at just FRF 0.265/kWh. The proposed decline in the price paid for wind power is designed to fight the present rush in France to winter peak diesel and gas turbines operated by independent generators. Several hundred megawatts are being installed from which EdF is obliged to buy power. Neither EdF nor the Ministry of Industry seem willing yet to differentiate between renewable wind power and independent generation based on fossil fuel.

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