French Government promises clear long-term policy for renewables

» By | Published 10 Sep 2012

Delphine Batho, French Minister for Ecology

The French minister for ecology has promised her government will set down stable rules for renewable energies as the wind industry demands action to save it from the “critical” state is has been in since May when France’s highest administrative court,  the Council of State, asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule whether the country’s premium purchase price for onshore wind constituted state aid.

“We will define stable rules for renewable energies for the duration of the government’s five-year mandate,” says Delphine Batho in the September issue of the French sustainable development magazine Terra Eco. She admits that “in the past few years, the incessant changes to rules, purchase prices, moratoriums etc., have profoundly destabilised” the industry. These “rules” are expected to be discussed at a conference on the environment to be hosted by the government on 14-15 September.

This news should bring some cheer to the wind industry, which has recently expressed deep concerns about the development of the sector in France. The French Wind Energy (FEE) association said this week that the industry was in a “critical situation” and that “thousands of jobs were threatened” because of the “uncertainty” over the future of the premium purchase price for onshore wind.

This warning followed a statement from the French union of renewable energy (SER) about the low number of wind turbines that were connected to the grid in the first half of 2012. Figures, published by ERDF, the organisation responsible for the distribution of electricity in France, showed that only 215 MW of wind power were put into service during the first six months of this year, compared to 340 MW during the same period in 2011. SER insisted that 2011 had itself been “very disappointing with only 875 MW connected to the grid” during the whole of last year.

However, the polemic over the future of nuclear in France that erupted at the end of August may have left some in the wind industry wondering how much commitment the government really has to boosting the sector. During his election campaign to become president of France, Francois Hollande pledged to cut nuclear’s share of the power mix from 75% to 50% by 2025, partially by boosting renewables. However, this promise seemed to be nothing more than hot air when Arnaud Montebourg, French minister for industrial renewal, insisted that nuclear energy is “an industry of the future”.

“We need energy that is not too expensive,” he told French news channel BFM TV. “France’s existing nuclear infrastructure is a huge asset, giving us cheap and affordable electricity. “It is a strategically important asset and we will continue investing in France’s nuclear future.”

Batho this week tried to end the rumpus begun by Montebourg’s assertions, insisting that France’s nuclear policy was “clear, coherent and solid”. She said that nuclear and renewable energy were “complementary” – that France wants to “massively develop” renewable energies, but will “continue to need nuclear long-term”.  She concluded that nuclear is “an industrial sector which has a future”, while “the energies of the future are renewable energies”. Any investment in the nuclear industry would be for “dismantling,” she told RMC Info/BFM TV.

The truth of the matter still remains to be seen, but the picture should hopefully become at least slightly clearer after the September meeting.