Will this be the year that offshore wind finally takes off in France?
It’s a question that we have asked so often that we get déjà vu – but this year the answer might be ‘oui’.
The French government has a funny relationship with offshore wind. It gave support for 3GW of offshore wind farms between 2012 and 2014, and then hasn’t been able to remove administrative hurdles to speed them along. The result is that France doesn't yet have a utility-scale wind farm in its waters.
There have been positive words. In December, President Macron said France was “fully committed to offshore wind”, and would tender 1GW of capacity each year between 2020 and 2024. It looked as if he was getting ready to push his foot on the accelerator. But this ‘full commitment’ fell a little flat last week.
Yes, France committed to increase its 2028 offshore wind target from up to 5.2GW to up to 6.2GW in its new energy roadmap. It was welcomed by the industry as a baby step in the right direction, but hardly ambitious.
But when you look through the detailed document it becomes clear that, as far as the wind sector is concerned, French leaders are robbing Pierre to pay Paul. The plan also set to reduce its 2028 onshore wind target by 1GW to 34GW.
This will still need the country to increase its annual installed onshore wind capacity from an average of 1.6GW a year to 1.8GW – a solid contribution given the upheaval in some of Europe’s key wind markets – but it’s not going to drive Europe towards ‘net zero’.
This isn’t the major commitment to renewables that we expect from a leader who has pledged to “make climate great again”, and in a nation that is set to close 14 of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2035. The country's environment and energy agency has said that France could accommodate 90GW of fixed-foundation offshore wind farms in its waters and up to 155GW.
But this potential hasn't spurred fast action.
We know that President Macron has other things on his mind. Now he is facing huge industrial action and public revolts over planned changes to the pension system, in which energy workers cut power to an estimated 35,000 customers last week. But he has also made promises about the climate and renewables that have come to little.
The interest from major French utilities is clearly there.
Last June, a group led by EDF won an auction to develop a 600MW wind farm off the coast of Dunkirk; and, on Friday, EDP Renewables and Engie cemented their relationship in offshore wind by forming a 50:50 joint venture to build fixed-foundation and floating schemes.
But it doesn’t change the fact that progress has been as slow as a protest by lorry drivers. Seven months on from a decision by the European Commission to give support to six projects totalling 3GW under European state aid rules, we still see little day-to-day progress to get excited about.
Here are the projects that are due to complete in the next three years.
They are the 496MW Le Treport (2021), 496MW Yeu-Noirmoutier (2021), 496MW Saint Brieuc (2022), 480MW Saint Nazaire (2022), 500MW Courseulles-sur-Mer (2023) and 500MW Fecamp (2023).
In the longer term there is also Dunkirk mentioned above, and consultation is ongoing on a potential 1GW wind farm off the coast of Normandy.
And yet, we want to be positive.
Most of the big hurdles now seem to be out of the way and there is too much money tied up in these projects for them not to happen. France wants to lead Europe as far as the climate crisis is concerned, and it must now act like it has the second-largest offshore wind potential in Europe.
Eight years ago, France was giving support for the first wave of those projects. In the next eight years, it wants to get to 6.2GW as well as establishing itself as the leading floating wind market. It's time for Macron to put his foot down.
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