New targets reduce role of fossil fuel -- France favours wind

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The French government has published its official target for renewable energy over the next three and a half years. Between now and January 1, 2007, it wants 2561-7810 MW of renewables capacity installed, including 2000-6000 MW of wind power. France will still rely heavily on nuclear, but the renewables' targets compare favourably with those for fossil fuel, which are 500-3000 MW for natural gas, up to 1000 MW for coal and up to 2000 MW for oil.

The figures represent a cautious scaling down of France's ambition for renewables by the Conservative government of Jacques Chirac in comparison with Lionel Jospin's left wing government, which lost office last year. The use of ranges of numbers instead of fixed targets, as previously, provide ministers with a convenient way to play to the fickle electorate: they can talk big figures if the national mood stays in favour of renewables but they will have a low get-out threshold if opinion swings the other way.

Policy change needed

Even to reach the lowest limit will take commitment from the government as France's total installed capacity is still hovering just below 200 MW. The wind power tariff system places a size cap of 12 MW on wind farms and legislation in January imposed more restrictions on project developers: wind plant may not be sited closer to one another than 1500 metres (stopping larger wind farms being assembled from smaller units), any wind plant exceeding 2.5 MW needs an environmental impact study and any turbine on a tower over 25 metres will trigger a public enquiry.

For the first time, however, the government's target includes a particular target for offshore: 500-1500 MW. At present France has no offshore wind plant, no planning system for building them and therefore no approved offshore projects. But the government has announced there will be a first call for tenders for offshore wind farms this summer.

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