More challenges then prospects

A national wind industry conference at Brest in October attracted nearly 300 delegates, representing most of the actors in the French wind business. They found it will take a deal of hard work as well as enthusiasm to overcome the obstacles ahead -- the tender process for France's Eole-2005 program, the coming liberalised European energy market, and uncertainties surrounding the country's own wind industry.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm when the French wind community gathered last month for a national wind industry conference at Brest in the far west of the Brittany peninsula. "Wind Energy in France: main challenges and prospects," attracted nearly 300 delegates, representing most of the actors in the French wind business. But it will take a deal of hard work as well as enthusiasm to overcome the obstacles ahead -- the tender process for France's Eole-2005 program, the coming liberalised European energy market, and uncertainties surrounding the country's own wind industry.

The event was hosted by the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME). Setting the tone of the conference was ADEME's new chairman, Pierre Radanne, who pronounced wind a "moral priority." While the country has only 10 MW of wind plant operating today, much of the discussion centred around Eole-2005, a government program run by utility Electricité de France (EDF), which sets a target for 250 MW of wind power by the year 2005, developed through a series of tenders. Three tenders for nearly 180 MW have been issued to date, with 80 MW of projects so far selected for contracts (Windpower Monthly, March 1998).

Radanne previewed the consequences of running the Eole tender process in its existing form after implementation of the European Directive on a single electricity market, due to come into force next year. "Everything may come to a halt," he said, adding his department is working to avoid that situation. "The energy markets look like the Titanic with a party on board. Of course the prices are low, but the growing demand in the south and the climatic change look like serious icebergs to me."

Eole-2005 prices are too low and cannot bring any return to investors, insisted ADEME's Bernard Chabot. His views were backed by the few banking and finance sector delegates present. The current average rate is FFR 0.337/kWh for mainland projects -- barely more than the general rate of about FFR 0.300/kWh. Financiers complained that the "present system is so subsidised outside the tender that no serious reference may emerge." Banks have yet to become aware of the wind sector. One solution, proposed Jean-Yves Grandidier of the French Wind Energy Association, could be to set a fixed rate of pay for power from wind projects.

Grandidier also questioned the Eole-2005 tender requirement that the wind turbine supplier must be listed in the project proposal. "Even if some changes are possible, this brings uncertainties and weakens our negotiation with the manufacturers," he said. "The entire process is now so heavy as to cost enormously, all at the risk of developers."

Of the Eole wind projects rewarded so far, 10 MW has made it home after compromise agreements were reached in all cases with regulatory or local authorities, said Jean-Louis Bal of ADEME. Delays can be expected with another 10 MW, he noted, particularly due to a change in planning regulations and difficulties with a new player in the game, the civil aviation authority, which has a say on any structure over 50 metres tall.

More delays are on the way at La Hague in the north, where a 4.5 MW project was awarded to American turbine manufacturer Enron and its French developer partner EOLE Technologie. EDF is squabbling with COGEMA, owner of the La Hague nuclear reprocessing concern in Normandy, which is now reluctant to allow any wind turbines near its site.

Coming change

How wind will survive and prosper in France's implementation of the European Directive on a single electricity market was discussed at length in Brest. While details still need to be sorted out, EDF officials showed signs of enlightenment. They at last seemed to be prepared to admit that change in the market will indeed happen sooner or later. There is talk of transmission and grid management being physically split from the EDF seat in Paris and, perhaps more significantly, foreign involvement is apparently not as a major taboo any longer. "Soon German Stadtwerke should be better off developing a wind project in the Aude than paying for badly sited turbines," said one EDF engineer. News broke of discussions that have already begun between EOLE Technologies and cities in neighbouring countries for possible direct sales if wind power and financial involvement in development.

While grid access under the new market structure is not expected to be a problem in the near term, transmission and distribution prices will hold the key, said Jean-Michel Grave of AFINEOLE, the association of French wind turbine manufacturers. Some EDF officials defend a per kilowatt rate for transmission, he said, which triples the price of wind compared to that of nuclear. "In the lobbying to come, we have to ensure that the largest part of the rate is based on energy and not on power," Grave said.

Meanwhile, authorities seem to be taking their time over how the new electricity market structure will shape up. Liberalisation legislation should be in place before the end of 1999, said Radanne, nearly a year past the February 1999 deadline set by the European Commission. Over 100 decrees still need to be written, however, most with difficult negotiations between government departments, Radanne said. Some of the possible outcomes which circulated among discussions at Brest include the following: transmission fees based on a "postage stamp" approach, not distance dependent; a new national fund to pay for the cost of the government's wind program; a new independent energy authority, and the possibility that cities and regions be allowed to produce energy themselves.


Interest in France's huge Jeumont Industrie (JI) concern was also piqued during the conference, but little detail filtered down on the company's new 750 kW variable speed turbine. The modular discoid generator, based on permanent magnets, is said to have an important advantage over other designs when it comes to grid integration. The diameter of the ring generator is reportedly only about 3.5 metres. The first five units are due to be installed next month along a highway in Widehem, near Le Touquet in the Pas-de-Calais region, the first phase of a 4.5 MW project awarded in the Eole-2005 tender (Windpower Monthly, December 1997). "We have reinvented the Barlow wheel, and we are learning the profession of investor-producer," said Yves Duretz of JI.

The failure of JI's previous attempts to ally itself with Danish companies Nordtank or Micon do not necessarily mean such an alliance will not take place, Duretz said. The setback was caused by the refusal of the partners to share key information on turbine parts, he explained. Some kind of alliance deal is now certain, he confirms. JI, part of the Framatome Group, expects to consolidate its technical position in wind energy and start using the international commercial network of the group.

The company hinted at a 2.25 MW offshore turbine for the future. "Patents should not be a problem," said Jean-Pierre Canini of JI, referring to the current controversy over patenting of variable speed technology. He says JI's "stall machine" is not similar to others on the market.


Another player in the French wind industry, small turbine manufacturer Vergnet, unveiled its "Occitane," a new 200 kW unit that looks similar to older Carter designs from the one-time Texas company of that name. "This is the ultimate extension of our rugged design for islands," said Marc Vergnet. The regulator is based on an oil-air system derived from Citroen technology. The aim is to attain a turbine cost of FFR 6000/kW.

Vergnet smiled with quiet confidence about the prospects ahead. He reported on a market study his company commissioned, with 3000 wind measurement points compiled in 42 countries. "I cannot give figures," he said, "but compared with our present activity it is enormous." While Vergnet says commercial contacts are promising in many countries such as Haiti, St Vincent, Dominican Republic and throughout Middle America, business is still difficult in the home market. In particular, Vergnet has been caught in a deadlock over tender contracts won for projects in the Caribbean islands during the second round of bidding for Eole-2005. Not a single project is yet up from this the lot. Part of this failure has been due to uncertainties in the fiscal support for such investment in French overseas islands, Vergnet said. "We have bought a workshop and hired 30 people near Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe to assemble the 60 kW machine. The present stop and go endangers all the process."

Waiting for wind

Although wind development is more in the way of talk than action in Brittany, the region was an enthusiastic host for the conference. Not a single wind turbine has been installed in the province so far, but two plants, totalling 9 MW and destined for sites at Goulien and Plouarzel in west Brittany, gained contracts in the last round of tenders. Regional authorities were hopeful of more activity describing a future full of turbines and jobs. One study by CCI-Bretagne, the Brittany chamber of commerce, found 108 firms interested in wind development.

Brittany's image of wind may still seem naive, however. "We were surprised that wind is just another industrial market with talk of costs, delays, closed circles," said Michel Sorel of CCI-Bretagne. André Laurent of EDF-Iroise, which distributes electricity in the region, said, "We want proven, working technology -- the sooner the better." The next large wind meeting in France is scheduled for hosting by the City of Dunkirk at the end of 1999. At this time, the new legal situation of wind will probably be sorted out and evaluations of the Eole-2005 tenders should be well advanced.