First project heads for construction next year -- French offshore sector grows

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The ongoing saga of France's first offshore wind installation continues. Enertrag and Prokon Nord, the two German companies developing the 105 MW project in the English Channel off Veulettes-sur-Mer, had hoped to install the first turbines in 2008, but the all-important siting permit did not arrive until September. Then a local opposition group launched an appeal, arguing the turbines will spoil the view and interfere with local radar. Meanwhile, Enertrag is continuing the onshore work, confident the appeal will not be upheld. It hopes to complete the electrics this year and start installing the 21 Multibrid 5 MW machines from Areva in 2010. If so, the first turbines should be turning off the coast of France next year.

The project was selected following a government tender call in 2005, with completion slated for 2007. In retrospect, Enertrag says the timetable was unrealistic, particularly since the rules for offshore wind were being worked out as the project went along. But the authorities are "very supportive", says Enertrag's Guillaume Fagot. He believes they will also be flexible regarding the 20-year power supply agreement with French national utility EDF, for EUR 100/MWh, which in theory started ticking in 2007. Everyone is keen for France's first offshore plant to be a success.

In November, environment and energy minister Jean-Louis Borloo announced that regulations for offshore development will be "greatly simplified." He has promised that offshore installations will be exempt from the rule requiring that plant be built in "wind power development zones" in order to qualify for the guaranteed premium purchase price. Instead, he intends to establish three special authorities, one for each of the English Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, charged with overseeing development offshore, including identifying suitable areas through broad consultation. France is aiming for 6 GW installed offshore by 2020.

From the number of offshore wind projects on the cards, developers seem to believe the process will become easier. At least 24 projects are said to be in line along the northern and Atlantic coasts and the grid operator has received initial requests for connections for over 4 GW in total. The waters around Brittany are attracting most attention, partly in response to the region's commitment to source 20% of its electricity from renewable energy and 30% from local production by 2020.

Among the projects announced this year, Germany's WPD has three under development: 250 MW off the north coast of Calvados, in Brittany; 300 MW in the Channel off the Seine-Maritime département; and 600 MW in the Atlantic off the island of Noirmoutier, in the Vendée. WPD hopes to submit a formal application for the Calvados project soon, while it says the 300 MW project is progressing well and enjoys strong local support.

Ma•a Power, a subsidiary of the French construction and engineering firm Ma•a, is also developing a project for up to 250 MW off the Calvados coast, in the Baie de Seine. After nine months of local consultation, Ma•a launched feasibility studies in September and plans to start the permitting process this summer. Not far away, Eole-RES, the French subsidiary of Britain's Renewable Energy Systems, recently dusted off its 100 MW project to the north of Cherbourg, off the Cotentin peninsula. The company hopes to submit an application by the end of the year. Further west, France's largest independent electricity and gas supplier, Poweo, is studying a project for around 150 MW in the Baie de St-Brieuc, off Brittany's north coast. And local wind power specialist Nass & Wind is looking for a suitable site either in the Baie de St-Brieuc or on the south side of the Breton peninsula.

Floating turbines

At the same time, two companies are developing floating turbines for use in deep-water sites of France. Last year, Dutch firm Blue H Technologies established a French subsidiary to develop a tension-leg platform for a 3.5 MW turbine in association with local companies and research centres. The company has already installed an old Dutch Lagerwey 80 kW turbine on an experimental platform off southern Italy in 2007. A platform carrying a 2 MW turbine is scheduled for installation this spring and the 3.5 MW unit will follow on from that for testing off the Brittany coast. Blue H has plans to develop wind farms of up to 350 MW in the same area.

Another consortium led by Nass & Wind is developing a 2.5 MW or 3 MW floating turbine, mounted on an "innovative free-floating platform" for use in waters up to 150 metres deep. The plan is to install a near-scale prototype in 2011, most likely at a test site in Breton waters.

On the back of all this activity, the port of Brest, on the western tip of the Breton peninsula, hopes to set itself up as a manufacturing and service centre for France's burgeoning offshore wind sector.

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