France surprises with big tender

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An unexpected call for proposals this spring for 100 MW of new wind power capacity is among the surprises in a new package of energy initiatives announced by French industry ministry secretary Christian Pierret on February 25. The package mainly concentrates on ways of increasing energy efficiency, but more support for renewable energies is included.

The initiatives spring from a new government study of energy policy options for France, showing the first indications that nuclear is losing favour. New nuclear is included in just one of the report's future energy scenarios, but even then, combined cycle gas is given equal importance. The renewables focus is on wind energy, wood and biomass. The call for 100 MW of wind is to be split into two tranches -- 75 MW for the mainland and 25 MW for France's overseas territories.

The tender is the third and largest so far under the EOLE-2005 wind programme, which sets a target for 250 MW of wind power. It comes close on the heels of the selection of nearly 65 MW of wind projects under the second call (Windpower Monthly, December 1997) and 13.5 MW under the first. A third call was not expected until March 1999, at the earliest, because of uncertainties regarding the implementation in France of the European Directive on a single electricity market, due to come into force February 19, 1999.

Significantly, the Directive is forcing France to remove its 8 MW cap on the allowed size of independent power plant construction. Although seen as good news in some quarters, there are also fears in the French wind community that without the cap there will be a rush to develop huge projects in the country's windiest areas, giving rise to the kind of public protest which is haunting the industry in Britain.

Meantime the government has boosted the budget for ADEME, the national agency for energy and environment, by FRF 500 million a year, starting in fiscal year 1999. The sum will be raised from an "ecological tax," most likely on non renewable energy generators. In recent years, ADEME's annual budget had fallen to about FRF 190 million for personnel and functioning and FRF 150 million for grants and loans to research and development projects in renewable energy and conservation.

Paradoxically, while ADEME has been short of money for energy projects, it has had an overflow of funds allocated to waste management, raised from a specific tax. One billion francs remains unused from 1997 and cannot be transferred. The new budget is good news for Pierre Radanne, a well known anti-nuclear activist who has just been appointed ADEME's chief executive officer. He leaves a post as deputy to the French environmental minister.

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