Driving down the French autoroutes over the New Year break to spend some time away with friends, the surrounding countryside gave the impression that France has raced ahead with installed capacity for onshore wind.
French wind projects have proliferated along major road networks, where planning policy has decreed that if the land has already been used for a major, highly visible, infrastructure project, turbines cannot be said to be having any impact on views.
In many ways, it’s quite a sensible policy. Particularly since it seeks a middle ground between polarised national opinions on wind development that characterises many Western European countries views on renewable energy.
Indeed looking at these developments it seems hard to believe that France, a country with the third largest wind resource in Europe, only produced 6.6GW of wind energy in 2011.
But to the foreign driver on French roads, the story is misleading. France’s domestic wind energy production is too often hampered by an overly complex permitting process, which in extreme cases can require approval by up to 25 legislative offices.
US offshore looks almost laissez faire in comparison.
Which made Iberdola’s exit from the market this week an interesting case in point.
The Spanish energy utility has sold 32 onshore wind farms to General Electric, Meag – the asset manager for Munich Re – and French utility EDF.
The French sell off isn’t the only divestiture that the firm is intending to make – Iberdrola developments in Germany and Poland are also reportedly up for grabs – as it looks to reduce its debt in 2013.
But given the challenges of gaining a foothold in the French market, the decision to remove its operations is one that might not be easy to go back on.
Most in the industry know that 2013 could be quite a tough year in the Western European markets, and Iberdrola is perhaps preparing for the storm to continue by ensuring its balance sheet is in the best possible health.
It will be interesting to see whether having freed up some extra cash, the firm increases its investments in Eastern Europe – building on its early stage operations in Romania and Hungary.
Four Republican congressmen have called for a halt to US offshore wind projects because of unsubstantiated claims blaming the industry for whale deaths. But this obvious misinformation can still be a threat for the growth of the industry.