Onshore wind is still struggling to find its place

Will the acceleration of onshore wind projects take place? In France, professionals in the sector want to believe it, given the current context, with the very sharp reduction in deliveries of Russian gas to Europe and the soaring prices of fossil fuels. They also highlight the delay of France in the share of renewable energies in Europe compared to the electricity mix, which would be in last place of the Twenty-Seven, with Poland.

The multiannual energy programming law (PPE) forecast an installation rate of 1.9 GW per year between 2020 and 2028. We are far from it, with only 1.3 GW additional in 2020, 1.2 GW in 2021 and probably a similar amount in 2022, which represents just over 400 new machines. “In three years, we have already taken a year behind”, says Michel Gioria, the general delegate of France Energie éolienne (FEE). Wind generation accounted for 7.7% of electricity consumption, with a capacity of just over 20 GW.

Additional revenue for the state

Wind power has become an important budgetary resource for the State. Electricity prices have, in fact, reached peaks on the wholesale markets and are well above the feed-in tariffs agreed to with the State, which leads operators to pay back part of the difference, i.e. 7 .6 billion euros this year and the same in 2023, if prices remain at this level.

“Wind power finances up to 75% of the electricity tariff shield and by 2024, it will have returned all the subsidies received to the State”, recalls Michel Gioria. But today, 4.5 GW of projects would be blocked. “There are even 2.5 GW for which the 2,000 pages of file have been completed and which are only awaiting the environmental authorization issued by the prefect. In a year, they could see the light of day,” believes the general delegate of FEE.

At the end of September, the government sent a circular to the prefects asking them to “put in place all the required actions” to expedite the processing of all ongoing renewable energy projects, including onshore wind.

An unclear government strategy

Professionals nevertheless remain cautious, given the very variable positions of the President of the Republic on the subject. In 2020 in Pau, he explained that there was less and less consensus on onshore wind power and, last February, in Belfort, he announced a halving of the pace of installation.

“The prefects no longer know what attitude to adopt and when in doubt, many of them prefer to block the files”, affirms Mattias Vandenbulcke, the director of strategy of France Energie éolienne, also insisting on the lack of civil servants to instruct the projects.

The law aimed at developing renewable energies more quickly, which is being discussed in the Senate at the beginning of November, will not solve the difficulties either, believe the wind operators. “She misses her target” assures Mattias Vandenbulcke. While its objective is to halve the development time of projects, it would save on average, according to him, only three to four months on instruction times.

Opposition from residents and elected officials

It also remains to face the hostility of local residents, many of whom oppose the installation of wind turbines next to their homes. In Parliament, the discussion of the bill on the acceleration of renewables also promises to be agitated and it is unlikely that the government will be able to get it voted on as it stands, for lack of a majority.

Some parliamentarians also dispute the supposed French delay in its energy transition, recalling that the main thing in this area is the CO content2 electricity, which puts France in the lead, thanks to nuclear power. They point out that the intermittence of renewables means having more controllable, thermal or nuclear power stations. In the Senate and the Assembly, opponents of wind power intend to make their voices heard, in particular by pleading for increased power given to elected officials to oppose projects.

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