France lags behind on wind farm installations, official report warns

It now risks fines for being the only country in Europe to miss its European renewable energy targets

A view of a wind turbine in Moselle, Lorraine, France
France lags behind its European neighbours when it comes to wind farms and wind energy production, a new report has warned
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France lags behind the rest of Europe when it comes to installing wind farms and generating wind power, and could be fined for not hitting European targets, a new report has found.

In a report published on October 16, the Cour des Comptes - France’s supreme court for auditing the use of public funds - confirmed that France was the only country to have missed its European targets for wind power, as outlined in the 2018 renewable energy directive.

This has been blamed on too many regulations in the sector, which have caused obstacles in rolling out the technology, the report said.

The Cour des Comptes stated that this could mean that France will “incur financial penalties”.

It has been clear since the start of 2023 that the country would not hit its objectives, reported Libération. At the end of 2022, the wind power capacity generated in France represented 20.9 GW, or only 80% of the target set in the latest Programmation pluriannuelle de l’énergie (PPE).

In 2021 wind just covered 8% of France’s electricity demand, compared to 23% in Germany and 22% in the UK, according to figures from WindEurope. In 2020, France ranked 17th in the EU for its share of energy needs met by renewables.

Read more: France aims to overcome local discontent in wind farm push

However, the court acknowledged that the new renewable energy law, la loi d’accélération des énergies renouvelables (AER) - which was adopted in March - was “seeking to remedy" these obstacles and made the “simplification of procedures a priority”.

Obstacles to wind farm targets

The report found some major obstacles to hitting the targets in France, including:

  • Limits on the land available (just 20% of the country). This means that wind power generation is currently mainly concentrated in two regions: Hauts-de-France and Grand-Est, with little scope for much expansion so far.
  • The time it takes to obtain authorisation for wind farm construction. This is currently seven years on land and 10 years at sea. “This is sometimes almost twice as long as in neighbouring countries”, the report said.
  • Conditions for competitive project tendering. Rules around project tendering and wind farm sizes meant that it was more attractive for companies to build smaller sites. This has “drained the majority of capacity and therefore limited the number of candidates for calls for tender”, the court said.

Read more: Which departments in France have the most wind farms?

“[These issues] together with the excessively slow rate at which environmental authorisations are issued, has contributed to slowing down the growth of wind generation, preventing the achievement of the targets set by the PPE,” the court reported.

It also highlighted that some existing wind farms are reaching the end of their operating lives, prompting questions about how to repair, recycle or renew them - especially those installed close to homes.

Read more: French wind turbine blades to get a second life as car body panels

Court recommendations

The court’s report recommended that the state should:

  • Enforce more structure on wind farm project management and deployment.
  • Work to make the procedure more flexible and less centralised, as the current “not very agile system…cannot meet the challenge of developing 50 wind farms by 2050”.
  • It also said that the state should work to increase the social acceptability and perception of wind farms, and prepare for the eventuality that people living or working close to wind farm sites may demand compensation.

This is because “the social acceptability of wind power is a prerequisite for its development, [and] the issue of compensation…cannot be avoided, particularly in the case of offshore wind power in relation to fishing zones”, it said.

Read more: MPs in France say wind turbines must not add to ‘visual saturation’

Renewable energy remains a divisive issue. Ahead of the last presidential election, Marine Le Pen pledged to put a stop to wind farm projects and even to begin dismantling existing wind farms.

In contrast, President Macron said he would commit to more renewable energy production.

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