French minister outlines support for wind energy

French minister outlines support for wind power. After a difficult few months for the French wind farm industry, Nicole Bricq, appointed French minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy, and now minister for external commerce, signalled her support for the sector and promised she will ensure that new projects can go ahead as planned.

The wind sector took a knock of confidence in 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 constitutes state aid. The tariff remains in place – it could take the court up to two years to make a final decision – but the referral has cast a wave of uncertainty over the industry.

The election of Francois Hollande as president of France has already offered of hope to the renewables sector. Unlike his predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy, who was a keen supporter of nuclear power, Mr Hollande has pledged to cut nuclear’s share of the power mix from 75% to 50% by 2025 partially by boosting renewables.

Ms Bricq gave added impetus to this position last week when she issued a statement confirming that she was aware of “the delicate situation of a number of [wind power] projects today because of the withholding of finance” after the decision of the Council of State on 15 May. “We cannot not simply wait for the ECJ’s opinion,” she said, citing the importance of wind power in increasing France’s energy mix and for the country’s economy. It therefore “seems necessary to reassure the sector,” she said.

The government will keep a watch to ensure there is no questioning of the country’s premium purchase price for onshore wind from other sources, promised the minister. Likewise, Paris will not allow any weakening of the legal framework governing the wind sector so as “not to weaken the development rhythm of new projects,” she said. The government will, moreover, initiate “a wider reflection on all renewable sectors” during a national energy debate, which is due to be launched in the autumn, she added.

The French Union for Renewable Energies welcomed the declaration. Its president Jean-Louis Bal said the minister had listened to his organisation and praised her “clarity and diligence” in a “very difficult context” for the wind industry. The organisation said that Ms Bricq’s “clear and strong position would preserve the 10 000 jobs in the sector” and that the future development of the wind sector would create 50 000 extra jobs across France.

By Philippa Jones,