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Over the last decades, France has invested massively in nuclear power and designed its grids for this purpose. Nevertheless, it is a strong emerging wind energy market. The installed capacity in 2005 was 757 MW, and reached 1.6 GW in 2006, representing an annual increase of 112 per cent. By the end of 2007, the installed capacity reached an impressive 2,454 GW.

The main administrative barriers in France, according to the French Wind Energy Association (FEE), are:

  • The frequent addition of new constraints to the environmental impact assessment studies; and
  • The regular changes in legislation.

France has the second largest wind potential in Europe. Despite this strongly developing market, the deployment of the technology is often slowed down or even stopped. In general, the highest barriers in France are seen to be administrative and legislative ones. According to OPTRES, this is because RES-E policies are not fully clear or consistent, and a large number of authorities are involved in granting the building permit. In their assessment of administrative procedures in France, the Boston Consulting Group observes a 'vicious cycle' faced by the project developers, as failing to obtain one permit can result in the refusal of additional permits, which might lead to the failure of the planned project. The procedure takes place in three rounds, and involves 25 different offices according to the French electricity board. Small-scale and large-scale project developers have to comply with different procedures: projects with a hub height below 50m and those below 4.5 MW face a slightly simplified application process. In France, the time needed to get a building permit for a wind park is usually between one and two years, although the official length of time is given as five months. Project developers cannot undertake any actions towards administrations which do not fulfill the legal terms. Although the procedures for the licensing chain are transparent in France, they tend to be lengthy and complex. Lead times for the authorisation procedure can also be lengthy.

On an environmental level, before being able to install a wind plant, the location has to be determined and approved after a thorough impact assessment. France has established local committees which give advice on the siting of every project that might affect the landscape, including wind farms. These committees work in cooperation with the army, civil aviation and the meteorology services. This impact assessment process, despite its lack of transparency legal value, is often used by local authorities to reject projects without taking their benefits into account.

A discrepancy between the attitudes of national authorities and local/regional authorities towards RES-E projects can be observed in many Member States. OPTRES observes that environmental impact assessments currently only take into account the negative impacts of RES-E projects, without highlighting the positive points. Furthermore, OPTRES and the Boston Consulting Group have observed significant misinformation about legislative rules and how to apply them, as well as a lack of knowledge about the environmental, social and economic benefits of wind energy, especially at local authority level. In this context, wind energy project development is severely hindered, as the results are not only delays in the granting of building permits, but also significant and unnecessary increases in administration costs for the developers. The European Commission therefore urges the development of guidelines on the relationship with European environmental law.

In terms of priority grid access for wind energy, the grid operators’ mistaken belief that wind energy is a potential threat to grid security has changed over the last few years. Nevertheless, many grid operators and power producers do not want to reduce the capacity of existing power plants in favour of energy produced by wind power plants as it could pose a financial risk to the producer. In France, permits are granted based on grid studies, which last 6 to 12 months. In particular, the lack of connection capacity in large areas like the North, Picardie or on the Massif Central creates barriers. In these areas, the connection is in need of grid infrastructure development and better connection to the transmission grid. In this case, the grid studies requested by the grid operators are very complex and expensive, and the high initial costs can make projects less profitable, thus discouraging project developers and investors from installing new capacities.

The attribution of the costs of grid reinforcements is controversial. Since new financial rules were introduced, only a part of the connection cost (60 per cent) has to be covered by the project developer. The impossibility of dividing the cost of reinforcements between several producers is a real problem in all areas with a lack of capacity. Where small distribution networks are concerned, grid connection procedure is not fully transparent, meaning that the grid owner is sometimes reluctant to disclose information on available connection capacities and points.

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