"We have received bids from several teams, but we are not granting exclusive rights to any of them," says Denis Olive, deputy mayor of the windy district of Sigean near the Mediterranean. "But even if we know nothing of wind, we can see that the first assessments of potential energy production by bidders vary widely. But for this piece of desert, we are ready to try developing such an activity -- if the site is picked by EDF for development by one or more of the bidders."
At a wind energy forum during the recent Pollutec exhibition in Lyon, competing wind developers eyed each other warily. Many expressed their frustration that aside from the bid price, the selection criteria decided by EDF and the government -- among them the regional balance between projects and innovative schemes -- were not detailed or weighted.
Industry leaders such as Jean-Michel Grave of the trade group AFINEOLE question the extent of French political commitment to wind and fear it is not enough to encourage development of a healthy domestic industry.
In particular, the involvement of EDF, a nuclear utility which has shown little interest in developing the country's renewable resources, is causing concern. According to the small print of the tender documents, it will be EDF which has the final say in allocating contracts, not the appointed selection committee, which apparently has only an advisory role. Not only that, the presence of EDF's investment arm, CHART, in the final financing of several projects, is seen as a recipe for trouble. "There is too much conflict of interest," comments one observer.
This pessimistic view is challenged at the industry ministry, which also acts as state regulator through DIGEC. Officials there say the European Commission was consulted on the details of the tender and have approved its approach as being non monopolistic, despite the heavy involvement of a monopoly utility. Moreover, the EC's approval of the tender suggests it will not fall foul of the forthcoming EC Directive on liberalisation of the electricity market. The Directive requires that the production and transmission of electricity is split into separate businesses. Yet EDF's role in Eole 2005 would appear to contravene this basic tent of the Directive -- an issue which might well be raised by a disappointed wind bidder.
EDF is undoubtedly getting more involved in wind. To the surprise of the industry, two months ago its members were asked to join a French committee for wind turbine standardisation. While pondering this sudden overture from EDF, one utility official commented that a failure to respond by industry members could be interpreted in a lack of interest in wind. Coming from a utility which has pointedly refused to become involved in ongoing international work on wind turbine standards, the invitation and the attitude accompanying are seen as a bizarre move.
More good news
Meantime a commission on electricity pricing -- largely made up of utility and government representatives -- is quoting FFR 0.21/kWh for gas, FFR 0.25/kWh for nuclear and FFR 0.26/for wind in 2005 using a 1.5 MW turbine in winds of 7.5 m/s at 40 metre hub height. The cause of wind is being championed in the commission by Bernard Chabot of agency ADEME. The prices do not account for the external costs of power production and the adoption of such reference prices could well be good news for the industry.
The prospect of wind providing additional income for farmers is more good news in view of the lobbying strength of the farming lobby. Jean-Louis Bal of ADEME estimates that one 600 kW turbine may bring as much to a farmer as the European Union corn subsidy for one hectare of crops -- and provide the local community with the same level of tax revenue.