France to build 2 GW of offshore wind power as costs of nuclear exposed

» By | Published 11 Apr 2012

Long reliant on nuclear as its chief source of energy, France is having to think long and hard about its energy strategy in the face of increasing public questioning about the safety of nuclear after the Fukushima disaster and greater evidence about the potential future high financial costs of the technology. The decision by the French government late last week to award tenders to build offshore wind farms to produce 2 GW of energy suggests that wind power is high up the Elysée’s list of alternatives to nuclear.

French energy minister Eric Besson said the decision would create up to 10,000 new jobs and “position France among the leaders of the offshore industry,” when making the announcement that a consortium led by energy giant EDF and engineering firm Alstom had won a bid to build three wind farms off the coast of northern France. Spanish energy firm Iberdrola and French engineering giant Areva secured the rights to build a fourth farm, he said. The two consortia are expected to invest around €7 billion to install 2GW of offshore wind energy capacity, according to Besson.

The French government had originally announced plans for 3 GW of new offshore wind capacity and Besson said a second tender round would be launched later in the year. This round is also likely to include a fifth site, which was not awarded during the first tender round despite an application from engineering firms Siemens and GDF Suez.  According to tender criteria, projects were to be chosen on a range of criteria, weighted 40% towards price, 40% on the benefits to industry and 20% on the impact on the environment. There was insufficient competition in bids for the fifth site, according to the energy ministry.

Henri Proglio, CEO of EDF, said his company’s success “represents the beginning of a new industrial adventure in renewable energy for France,” while Patrick Kron, CEO of Alstom, said the project “will now set in motion a fully-fledged and lasting industrial sector in France that will finally serve export markets too”.

The three sites will include a total of approximately 240 turbines and orders will run on a site-by-site basis starting in 2014, following completion of feasibility and impact studies for each project, said Alstom.

The French Court of Auditors recently published a report revealing that the cost of producing nuclear energy will surge in France as old plants need updating and new safety standards make new plants much more expensive to construct: Fessenheim, a nuclear plant in the Alsace region built in 1977 cost €1.07 million per MW of capacity whereas the EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) nuclear plant in Flamanville will cost €3.7 million per MW. The cost of producing electricity made in EPR plants like Flamanville will also be significantly more expensive, says the report.

Meanwhile, the French public’s deepening lack of trust of nuclear power was discussed in a programme on the television channel France 5 on Tuesday evening. The programme “Nuclear, the Human Bomb” examined the impact of Fukushima on the nuclear debate in France and asked what the French state is doing to ensure the safety of its nuclear reactors.