The French and the Brits have a long tradition of sizing each other up across the Channel. But when it comes to energy policy, a comparison between the two countries is certainly instructive.
Take this month’s UK Offshore Wind Industrial Strategy, for example. Statements hinting at a possible local content element to the policy quickly drew attention from observers, including us.
The media glare prompted a swift denial from Energy Secretary Ed Davey. “No hint of favouritism here,” was the gist of his message. French politicians would never have bothered with such subtleties.
In France it seems a foregone conclusion that green energy policies are all about building a solid home market for the nation’s manufacturing giants.
French interests snapped up all of the projects handed out in the country’s first offshore round last year. The all-French line-up of Électricité de France and Alstom walked off with three out of five development zones.
Iberdrola, meanwhile, seemingly only gained a zone because the government needed to name more than one winner. The Spanish developer had slyly teamed up with France’s Areva for turbines, giving French employment prospects a boost.
A third French company in the bidding, GDF Suez, went away empty-handed after submitting a bid that was too high to accept even on job creation grounds.
Another show of blatant favouritism is likely this year with France’s second round of offshore bidding, which will once again feature GDF (this time paired with Energias de Portugal Renovaveis alongside Areva).
But perhaps the French can be indulged on this point?
After all, France’s nuclear might means it does not need to rely on offshore wind the way the UK or Germany does.
So while UK policymakers have to create the conditions to bring down the price of offshore power at whatever cost, regardless of how it affects local interests, the French can afford to indulge their job-creation instincts.
Plus the UK literally has to bring in outside expertise in order to meet its ambitious targets.
Getting worried about wind industry protectionism in France is missing the point. The UK is in onto a much bigger game, where everyone can play.
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