A further 4300 MW of wind projects are fully licensed and waiting to build and another 25 GW is under development. "Logically, France should add 2000 MW in 2009 and 2000 MW in 2010," says SER's André Antolini, "if the financing is there." In addition to the immediate problem of the credit crisis and global recession, the industry fears further delays may be caused by yet more changes to the regulatory framework. Whether they will be good or bad news for the already long and complex permitting process remains to be seen.
Following the removal of a size limit of 12 MW on all wind farms in 2006, three of the country's biggest plant came online last year. They were all built by EDF Energies Nouvelles, the national utility's renewable energy unit. In July the company commissioned 50.6 MW at Villesèque in the Aude département of south-west France and then squeaked in at the end of the year with 87 MW at Salles-Curan, in the nearby Aveyron département, and 52 MW at Chemin d'Ablis in the flat, windy Beauce region south-west of Paris.
But the most ambitious project so far in France is scheduled for completion this year at Fruges, near the English Channel coast. Here Ostwind International, the French arm of Germany's Ostwind, is putting the finishing touches to a 140 MW wind farm more than six years after it was initially announced. The first 60 MW was connected in 2007, with full operation now scheduled for June as Ostwind waits for the grid operator to hook up the final turbines.
Among other major projects for 2009, Eole-RES, the French subsidiary of Britain's Renewable Energy Systems, recently commissioned 50 MW at Pays de St-Seine, 20 kilometres north-west of Dijon. The company is now building 48 MW at Mont Gimont in the Haute-Marne département, followed by 52 MW at Sambrès in the Aude département and 54 MW in the Bourgogne region, for completion in 2009 and 2010. Eolfi, a Paris-based asset management company that also develops and operates plant, is just completing 41.4 MW at La Plaine Auboise in the north-east of France and expects to bring projects totalling another 100 MW online this year.
On the policy front, much of 2008 was devoted to translating decisions made by the Grenelle de l'Environnement, the national energy summit held in 2007, into law. The draft bills are now working their way through parliament, but as far as wind is concerned, they present a bit of a mixed bag. On the positive side, they confirm France's 23% EU target. Funding for research and development into renewable energies has also been increased, as has the budget of the environment and energy ministry charged with implementing the laws. Another proposal opens the way for local authorities to own their own generating capacity, while it has been confirmed that "wind power development zones," within which plant must be built to qualify for the guaranteed premium purchase price, will not apply to offshore installations. Instead, three new authorities will oversee offshore development (page 122).
Despite pleas by the industry for more market stability and less upheaval, a further change likely to be adopted is for each region to draw up a "climate, air and energy" plan that will identify wind power potential and establish targets, where plant can be built and where grid connections might need upgrading. While the industry has long supported such plans, it worries that opponents will take the opportunity to delay projects and urges the government to ensure siting permits are still issued while the plans are being prepared. The government says regions will be given a year from when the bill is passed to get the plans in place.
One of the ideas behind the plans is to prevent many small projects being scattered over the countryside. Environment and energy minister Jean-Louis Borloo is in favour of grouping projects for reasons of aesthetics and efficiency. He also wants to see local consultation improved. Although surveys reveal more than three quarters of the population in favour of wind power in their region, objections are raised in 30% of cases. Opposition to wind energy has become more vociferous in recent months, with former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing describing wind power as a "financial and environmental scandal."
A recent report by the environment and energy ministry, however, says the premium purchase price paid for wind-generated electricity "barely covers the cost of the investment." The study estimates that by 2012 the cost of generating wind power will be around EUR 79.4/MWh for an average site, while the purchase price under French law will be EUR 77/MWh, taking into account an inbuilt annual reduction in the pay rate of 2%. French energy agency ADEME recommends setting up a national observer to monitor the costs and benefits of renewable energies.
Cost analysis has also been going on in the offices of the grid operator, Réseau de Transport d'Electricité (RTE). It estimates it will have to invest EUR 1 billion to prepare the grid for 25 GW of wind energy in 2020, including working with grid operators to develop new management, monitoring and forecasting tools, upgrading the network and building more interconnections with neighbouring countries. In January, the European Investment Bank agreed to lend RTE EUR 400 million on "very attractive terms" to reinforce and develop the grid over the next four years, including integrating more clean energy.
Already in some regions, wind energy meets a significant amount of electricity demand. According to SER, 15% of domestic consumption is wind generated in the regions of Centre, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne and Picardie. By 2010, at least ten départements will produce over 50% of their domestic needs, including heating, from wind power.
The trend towards consolidation among wind plant owners continued last year. Among the bigger deals, France's second largest electricity producer, Compagnie Nationale du Rhône, bought a portfolio with a potential installed capacity of up to 850 MW from an undisclosed client. NEO, a subsidiary of Portugal's national utility Energias de Portugal, acquired 595 MW from local developer Eole 76 and Monaco-based Eurocape, while Enel-Erelis, owned by Italy's Enel, bought 120 MW from German developer Windkraft Nord; and another Italian company, Exerted, entered the French market by buying 55.2 MW from Theta Energy, based in Luxembourg.
A number of new turbine manufacturers are launching into the French market. At the end of last year, the country's first Fuhrländer units from Germany were commissioned at a 37.5 MW plant at Hauteville, in the northerly Aisne département, owned by Volkswind France, a subsidiary of the German operator Volkswind GmbH.
Canadian turbine producer AAER should also deliver two of its new 2 MW machines this year to a project being built at Criel-sur-Mer in northern France by Bordeaux-based developer Valorem. The first unit was slated to go up this month, though this is now looking unlikely. AAER and Valorem have set up a joint venture to import the turbines to France and later assemble them locally.