Planning procedure slows progress

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Lengthy processing of site permit applications in France is slowing development of most of the 391 MW of projects approved by government. Just 85 MW has been installed so far, of which 11 MW are on overseas territories. Next year, however, should see at least 90 MW more installed.

"The delay is five to six years from the first local contacts to the granting of planning permission," says Paul Neau of wind and environment consultancy Abies. Political will seems to be the key to clearing away obstacles. "There is a different way of seeing things in each département," says Michel Benard of utility EDF. He says the government is now preparing guidelines on wind plant siting for local authorities. "Future progress depends on the government -- whether it wants to make planning permission easy to obtain or whether it pays more attention to protecting the landscape," says Benard.

Wind power developers have been keen to comply with elaborate planning demands to avoid raising any "not in my backyard" opposition. An energy economy long used to relying on nuclear power is being asked to switch to renewables and a public shift in awareness is required. "We need to communicate more about wind energy," urges Paul Neau. "In France there is a lack of knowledge about wind farms. We need to point out the employment brought by wind energy. We have several companies which produce generators, brakes and blades but French people don't know about it."

For the moment, the political will towards wind power seems to be firm. Yves Cochet, the Green member of parliament behind much of the French government's renewables policy, particularly its introduction of a fixed 15-year tariff for output from wind power plant under 12 MW, is now environment minister. This year is a year of elections -- presidential and parliamentary -- and in the short term energy policies are unlikely to change.

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