French MPs approve bill to speed up development of renewables

France aims to multiply solar energy production by 10 and increase both off and onshore wind farms

Most French wind farms are found in just three regions

MPs have approved a bill aiming to facilitate the creation of renewable energy projects. The package includes covering car parks with solar panels and reducing the bureaucratic burden on developers.

The aim is to allow France to catch up with its neighbours.

In 2020, just 19.1% of the country’s energy came from renewable sources, compared to an EU average of 22.1%.

The government hopes to multiply solar energy production by 10, double onshore wind production, and create 50 offshore wind farms by 2050.

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

Here is what the bill will change:

  • It will apply an ‘imperative reason of overriding public interest’ to certain renewable energy projects. This will make legal challenges for reasons such as the protection of biodiversity more difficult;

  • It will be mandatory to install solar panels over most outdoor car parks larger than 1,500m². It will also become easier to get permission to install solar panels along main roads and in mountain areas;

  • ‘Acceleration zones’ where renewable energy projects are to be located as a priority will be introduced. They will require the approval of the local town council and cannot be located in national parks or nature reserves;

  • Local authorities should be careful to “limit the effects of visual saturation” when deciding whether to approve onshore wind farms. Currently, almost 60% of wind farms in France are concentrated in just three regions: Hauts-de-France, Occitanie and Grand-Est;

  • Also, designed to make local residents feel they have a voice, a renewable energy mediator will be created. As will a research centre to study solutions that reconcile renewable energy development with preserving biodiversity;

  • The bill regulates ‘agrivoltaics’, the practice of installing solar panels on farmland, and insists that agricultural production must remain the ‘primary activity’ of such parcels of land.

A headline feature of the original bill was a discount on electricity bills for people who live near wind or solar farms.

Read more: French city’s plan to encourage residents to invest in solar panels

This was removed and replaced by wider national funding for protecting biodiversity, and local help targeted at people struggling to pay their energy bills.

The bill passed by 286 votes to 238, with the help of Socialists who managed to get 70 amendments adopted.

The Greens abstained, saying the text lacked ambition. It had already passed the Senate before the latest modifications.

A committee made up of seven MPs and seven senators was due to meet at the end of January to attempt to reach a compromise.

The renewable energy sector and climate associations welcomed the bill but expressed concerns that it had been watered down by the many amendments.

Réseau Action Climat, a federation of green associations, labelled it “disappointing” in its current state.

“Concerns remain over certain proposals which would slow down or even prevent the roll-out of renewable energies, such as requiring the assent of mayors to define acceleration zones,” it said.

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