Market Status: France - Red tape threatens wind ambitions

FRANCE: France has held its position as Europe's fourth-largest wind market in both new and total capacity behind Germany, Spain and Italy.

According to the European Wind Energy Association, an additional 1GW came online last year, bringing the national total for mainland France and Corsica to almost 4.5GW. Additionally, French overseas territories contributed 76MW. At the same time, electricity generated from wind increased by 14% in 2009 to reach 6.5TWh. At the time of going to press, the government was still preparing to release its statistics.

Among the new plants completed was France's biggest so far, a 140MW installation at Fruges, in the northerly Pas-de-Calais departement. Developed and owned by Ostwind International, the French subsidiary of Germany's Ostwind, it comprises 70 Enercon 2MW turbines.

More installations needed

Nevertheless, France needs to ramp up its annual installations substantially if it is to meet its European commitment that by 2020 at least 23% of final energy consumption will come from renewable sources. To achieve this target, wind is expected to provide around 25GW of installed capacity, of which 6GW will be offshore.

The signals are not encouraging. "Obtaining siting permits is still very difficult and is slowing down," says Nicolas Wolff, president of the French Wind Energy Association. The reasons include continued uncertainty over the regulatory framework and France's increasingly active anti-wind lobby. These two factors are closely related as there is growing concern in France about too many small projects being scattered over the landscape.

In 2007 President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a national debate, dubbed the Grenelle de l'Environnement, to help develop government environment policy (Winpow Monthly, September 2007). The broad policy outline was laid out in the Grenelle 1 law, as it is known, passed in August. Among other things, Grenelle 1 confirms the government's 2020 renewable energy target and calls for intermediary targets to be established. Research will prioritise renewable energy sources - EUR1 billion will be allocated to sustainable development research encompassing climate change and "energies of the future". It also stipulates that the amount spent on research into clean technologies and protecting the environment will gradually increase to equal that spent on civil nuclear research. It also says that improvements will be made to the regulatory framework and to the grid to increase the uptake of renewables.

The country is now waiting for Grenelle 2, a legal toolbox detailing how policy will be implemented. The date keeps being pushed back but, according to the latest information, the bill is expected to have its final reading in the government's National Assembly in May or June and be ratified before the summer recess, some two years later than anticipated.

Regulatory fears

To smooth wind power development, Grenelle 1 requires that, by early August, the 22 regional authorities must draw up a renewable energy plan that identifies where turbines can be built. Although details of how this will be decided are not spelled out in the document, it is assumed that the areas identified will largely coincide with the wind power development zones (ZDE), within which wind farms must be built in order to qualify for guaranteed power purchase prices. French municipalities, or communes, propose ZDEs, which are in turn authorised by departements, one administrative level below regions.

There is concern that future regulation will be overly complex. The draft Grenelle 2 also calls for each region to produce a climate, air and energy plan (SCRAE) within one year of the law being passed. Regarding wind, the SCRAE must take into account wind power potential, grid capacity, environmental and landscape issues, national heritage, housing, technical and industrial constraints, flight paths and radar. They must specify configuration and density of installations in terms of the number of turbines in a given area of land.

Connection plan

Grenelle 2 also envisages that the grid operator will produce a plan outlining how wind and other renewables will be connected to the network. It remains unclear how the separate planning systems will mesh together. The wind industry is calling for amendments to Grenelle 2, clarifying how the mechanisms are to function.

Things may get worse before they improve. The government may subject wind turbines to regulation on industries classified for the protection of the environment (ICPE). This would lump them in with polluting industries, a move the wind industry lambasts as inappropriate and unnecessary. "France already has the strictest regulations on the planet," says Andre Antolini, president of the Renewable Energy Syndicate.

The industry is also concerned by the many layers of bureaucracy. "There is a risk of a multitude of planning tools which don't satisfy anyone, but do complicate things," warns Arnaud Gossement, a lawyer who practices environmental and energy law.

While the industry has been calling for regional plans for years, it wants them to be well designed, well coordinated and enduring. "It is urgent that plans are issued quickly and are not too detailed, (and that) they are not intended to replace the ZDEs but are a guide for authorities and developers," says Antolini.

Burden of proof

The industry is also concerned about other tabled amendments to Grenelle 2. When deciding whether to create a ZDE, for example, law dictates that departmental authorities must already ensure the protection of the countryside, historic monuments, and other outstanding and protected sites. If Grenelle 2 is passed as it stands, they will also have to bear in mind public safety, biodiversity and sites of archeological heritage. What with this and the possible ICPE classification, "it will soon be easier to build a nuclear power station than erect a wind turbine", Gossement says.

It seems unlikely that the final law will simplify procedures, although this is required under EU law. The more complex the system, the longer the permitting process will take and the more difficult it will become for France to meet its targets. Most observers believe that senior leaders in government fully support renewables and are keen to see France develop a dynamic industrial sector, particularly in offshore wind. Problems tend to occur at lower administrative levels.

For that reason alone, the legal framework needs to be very clear and simple, and supported at all levels, insists Antolini. Strong guidance is central to success, he says, adding: "If we don't have this at the level of the state, region, departement and so on, it will be very difficult to meet the targets."

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