Wednesday, December 21, 2005

France Overrides Wind Energy Foes

France Overrides Wind Energy Foes
Julio Godoy

PARIS, Dec 19 (IPS) - Only a massive immediate investment in wind energy and the installation of up to 6,000 new wind turbines around the country over the next decade will permit France to reach its target of further reducing carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new report by a state agency.

The report, prepared by high-ranking government officials at the French ministry of finance and economy, will likely serve as the basis for the Multi-Year Project for Investments in Energy (PPI, after its French name), and will be presented to the French parliament in early 2006.

According to the document, to which IPS had access, "France does not have any other choice than wind energy to significantly boost the development of renewable energy sources."

The document proposes the installation of enough wind turbines by 2010 to produce four gigawatts (GW, one billion watts), and 12.5 GW by the year 2016. That would require the installation of up to 6,000 new turbines in France by 2016.

France would then generate six percent of its energy needs from wind, for a total of 21 percent from renewable sources in 10 years time, allowing the country to meet the objectives set by the European guidelines on renewable energy sources adopted in 2001..

Today, according to the French state agency for the environment and the management of energy (ADEME, after its French name), France has an installed capacity of 632 megawatts (MW, one million watts) in wind turbines, representing barely 0.15 percent of its total energy.

By contrast, the three leading European countries in the use of wind energy -- Germany, Denmark and Spain -- already produce up to 18,000 MW, 3,100 MW, and 1,700 MW, respectively. In Germany, the installed capacity in wind energy represents six percent of the country's total energy consumption.

The French government seems ready to follow the advice of its experts. Last week, it approved seven new wind projects to be constructed next year, representing an installed capacity of 279 MW.

The policy has already prompted action at the state-owned energy provider Electricit� de France (EdF). Robert Durdilly, spokesperson at EdF, told IPS: "We are going to install some 3,300 MW by the year 2010, with an investment of 3.5 billion euros (some 4..2 billion U.S. dollars)."

But Durdilly warned that this programme would face enormous technical and administrative difficulties. "We have to find a location with enough wind to make the investment profitable, we have to convince the neighbours that the wind turbines won't damage their region, and that they will also profit from it."

This is only a first small step in overcoming the deficit created in the sector by the failure of the state so far to support wind energy, says H�l�ne Gassin, an energy analyst at the French branch of Greenpeace.

"France should already be producing up to 7,000 megawatts from wind energy, given the country's enormous wind potential," Gassin told IPS. "Instead, we are the European rearguard in the use of renewable energy sources."

Gassin regretted that the French government continues to rely on the massive use of nuclear energy, which supplies well over 80 percent of the country's power needs.

Indeed, wind energy faces enormous political challenges here, including the hostility of the conservative press and rural populations against the installation of wind turbines. According to ADEME, 36 percent of the French population opposes the installation of wind turbines in their immediate neighbourhoods, arguing that they are eyesores and do not create new jobs. This opposition has been expressed in fierce press campaigns against the development of wind energy in France. In an article last August titled "Massacre With the Wind", the influential conservative weekly newspaper Le Point denounced the nascent French wind energy policy as "a traumatic eruption � about to disfigure France".

Such arguments are refuted by environmental activists like Stephane Lhomme, of the network Sortir du nucl�aire ("Get rid of nuclear power").

"In Germany, the use of renewable energy sources such as wind is not only an environmental success, but also an economic one," Lhomme told IPS.

Lhomme said that in Germany, the use of wind energy has created some 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars in investments and revenues.

"In contrast to nuclear and carbon power stations, renewable energy sources such as wind do not deplete scarce resources, such as water, for inefficient cooling systems," he said.

Administratively, wind energy in France will face several constraints, including the reduction of the price paid by EdF, the state-owned monopoly in charge of distributing electricity, for every unit of electricity produced by wind turbines.

The current guaranteed price for MW per hour of wind energy is 83.80 euros, roughly 100 dollars per MW/hour. By law, this price will drop to 75 euros per MW/hour.

However, France appears to have grasped the enormous economic potential of the international wind energy market, so far controlled by German, Danish, Spanish and U.S. companies.

Today, Vestas, a Danish corporation, controls 35 percent of the world's wind turbine and related technology market, and is the leading firm in the sector, with yearly sales of well over four billion dollars. Vestas is followed by the Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa, the German firms Enercon and Siemens, and the U.S. General Electric Wind. French firms play no role in this market.

But that situation could change, says Jean-Christophe F�raud, energy correspondent for the French financial newspaper La Tribune, if France launches its own wind energy sector.

F�raud told IPS that local French producers of wind turbines and related technology, such as Jeumont and Vergnet, only sell their products in France, and represent no challenge to the major Danish, Spanish, German, and U.S. firms in the sector.

But he believes that if France substantially increases its wind energy capacity, the main producer of wind turbines in France would be then Areva, the state-owned enterprise in charge of managing the country's 58 nuclear power stations, and which also owns Jeumont.

"If France becomes a wind turbine country, you can bet that Areva and Jeumont will also play at the same level with Vestas, Gamesa, Enercon and Siemens," F�raud told IPS. (END/2005)