The French Government circulated on Thursday plans to speed up the installation of wind turbines. Such plans were put together by a working group, formed last October, to tackle the obstacles brought forth by the long-standing opposition against France´s renewable energy goals.
According to reports by an industry spokesman, one of the aims of the working group has been to get rid of legal provisions for blocking green energy projects, and collecting partial wind farm taxes for affected communities.
France´s administrative breakthrough
A breakthrough for wind energy projects in France has been the removal of the legal option for opposing parties to enact administrative tribunals, impeding therefore the progress in installing such projects, as stated by Marion Lettry, deputy head of the French renewable energy lobby SER and part of the working group, she further added, “This will not automatically reduce systematic appeals against projects, but will hopefully accelerate the process and thereby cut by at least two years off the time it takes for projects to be connected to the grid.”
A measure of the effect of the opposing parties to wind energy in this country is the fact that France has only been able to meet a little over 50% of projects´authorized installations, or 12.9 GW out of 22 GW approved, seriously dwarfing its goal to produce 26 GW by 2023. In Germany, Europe’s greatest wind power generator, it takes a mere three years to install wind farm projects. On the other hand, according to Industry officials, in France, this process can last as long as ten years.
Towering renewable energy efforts needed
In order for France to diminish its dependence on nuclear power, it needs to accelerate the installation of renewable energy projects including wind, solar and hydropower. This way it would be on course to attain the goal of reducing to 50 percent nuclear power generation by 2025, instead of the current 75 percent.
Interestingly, the Government of France rescheduled the deadline after RTE, a grid transmission system operator, alerted that without a towering increase in renewable energy the country would get exposed to power shortages. It is no coincidence that in France wind energy installation companies come from other European countries. They are listed, in order of the number of projects installed, as Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems, followed by German companies Enercon, Senvion and Nordex, and then German-Spanish firm Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy.
The wind energy blockade
In case you are wondering, the reason behind the slow process of wind farms installation in France has but a name: Jean-Louis Butre. A retired physicist who started his fight back in 2004, when he managed to form an association with residents from the communities of the region of Poitou, in western France, against a planned wind farm project near his home. He succeeded in stopping it after unveiling the real number of turbines the project contained, and the fact that the promoters were overlooking concerns raised by local citizens.
Such success turned Butre´s association into the Federation Environment Durable (FED) with more than 1,000 local groups. He has defined FED`s motto as a “guerrilla fight” of some sort against wind energy projects, having scored important wins over the industry FED has come up with a recipe which includes steps for starting legal procedures against projects. Butre clarifies further FED´s stance, “in principle, we are against all wind projects. We are a sort of guerrilla campaign against a financially powerful wind lobby and companies,”
FED can introduce appeals in councils and courts all through the administrative steps of the project, anywhere from inception to the approval phases. The Administrative Tribunals are usually the first place a legal appeal is filed and it can take two years to hear a case. If that fails, campaigners can go to the Court of Appeal which can take another two years. If one side is still not satisfied the case can go to the highest administrative court, the Council of State. Once it has heard the case it would go back to the Appeals Court for a final decision, adding several more years to the process.
Using this strategy the FED has registered significant wins, as the blocking of wind farms near historic sites such as Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. Or when energy company Engie was forced to abandon a project near a World War One battlefield in November.
Gwenaelle Huet, renewables energy director at Engie, the biggest wind power producer in France, has said on the subject of the appeals, “The filing of appeal after appeal against projects has become a French pastime”, she went on, ” it can take six to eight years – and sometimes more than a decade – for wind projects to come online in France compared with three to four years in Germany”.
France Wind Energy Industry has resorted to moving around common complaints from local communities, such as continuous blinking lights or infra-sound, by offering 20 percent of business tax (IFER) to go directly to the communities affected by the projects, and by getting these to “buy in” the project right from the start.
In Europe, Germany is at the head of wind power generation with 45 GW, followed by Spain with 23 GW, and finally Britain and France with 12 GW each.
In contrast, the deterrents for wind energy fruition for these countries vary greatly, according to the spokesmen of different organizations. Germany the most fluent, according to the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), consults with communities affected by projects early in the process, then it takes just three to five years before being operational. Whereas in Spain, as per the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE), the main reason for holdups has been administrative red tape. In turn, campaigners in Britain and France have been responsible for project abandonment, Britain has 12 GW of onshore wind power but it has 6 GW of offshore farms and is now focusing on large projects at sea.