Controls on Wind Turbines in France to be Tightened

With growing unease amongst politicians and local communities about the development of wind turbines in the countryside, the Government have decided to act by proposing tough new planning controls.

As we reported in an earlier extensive article, there has been a growing campaign of grassroots opposition to the installation of wind turbines in France, mainly because of their visual impact on the environment. There have also been concerns about their safety, and anger at the generous financial incentives being offered to companies to install the turbines. A recent study by an independent free-market ‘think-tank’ in France goes further, by arguing that wind turbines are also an expensive form of energy, and that they were not an efficient solution to energy needs for the future. The researchers at the Institut Montaigne considered that the higher costs of wind turbine power was due to their costs of construction and maintenance, and their intermittent power generation, which impacted adversely on the main network. They estimate that the additional cost will be around €1 billion a year up to 2020, rising to €2.5 billion a year if the programme proposed by the Government is realised. Around 30% of planning applications for wind turbines are subject to legal challenge in the courts. A surprisingly high number of judges find in favour of the detractors because of a failure of due procedure by the proponents of a scheme. In addition, some months ago a motion was placed in the French Upper Parliament proposing that all installations be subject to a local referendum, which attracted the support of 70 senators. Given the scale of the protest, the French Government seems to have concluded that the only way to introduce more wind farms in the countryside is for a more rigorous planning and consultation procedure to be adopted. Accordingly, they recently published a draft law under which wind turbines developments will be subject to the same planning process as those for industrial or other installations posing a potential threat to the environment! The irony of such a proposal has not been lost on many commentators. The process is called Installations Classées pour la Protection de l'Environnement (ICPE), a procedure that is not only long and arduous, but penalises heavily those who do not follow the rules to the letter, with the risk that any consent could be later overturned by a court of law. Although the new procedure will only apply to those wind turbines of at least 50 metres in height, it is likely to mean that most proposed installations will be caught by the law. If the proposed installation is below 50 metres in height, then the current planning procedure will continue to apply. Under the current procedure, wind turbines can only be installed in designated zones, and are subject to an environmental impact study, a public inquiry and a planning decision taken by the local préfet, not the local council. Even if the new proposal becomes law, its effects are unlikely to be felt until 2011 as those installations yet be to built, but which have obtained planning consent, will be allowed to proceed. Indeed, if the draft decree is enacted, it is questionable whether France will be able to meet the EU target of 23% of energy needs provided through renewable energy by 2020. It may well come about through growing interest in the installation of wind turbines in the sea, something that has been widely adopted in the UK. A major new installation off the coast of Brittany in the Saint-Brieuc bay (Côtes d'Armor) has recently been proposed, which will produce a total of 150 megawatts of power. France has set an objective of producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity from sea based wind turbines by 2015. If you would like to make any comments on the article you can e-mail

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