Will offshore wind happen in France?

Is Betteridge’s law of headlines correct? This is the idea that an article is irrelevant if it contains a headline where the reader can instinctively answer ‘no.’


February 15, 2019

Is Betteridge’s law of headlines correct? This is the idea that an article is irrelevant if it contains a headline where the reader can instinctively answer ‘no.’

And then there’s a longstanding principles that headlines with questions are the last refuge of lazy writers, and those who want to puff up stories that are sensational and based on flimsy facts. That one comes from before we entered the Clickbait Era.

I know all of this – and yet I’ve served you up with a question mark headline anyway Why? Well first, because in this case I think a ‘no’ answer would be more interesting.

We’ve heard a great deal of talk about the growth of offshore wind in France over the last five years, but companies have struggled to put steel in French waters.

And the second reason for the question headline is that it’s one we face on a regular basis. Over the years we have given France the benefit of doubt. Every country with an offshore wind industry has had to overcome hurdles to get there – remember the German transmission traumas? – but our patience is wearing thin. It is for others too.

Take WindEurope, which last week published its 2018 statistics on the offshore wind industry in Europe and said France was “the ‘gamma minus’ performer in Europe” as it “has no offshore wind farms nor is it clear when they will have”. It isn’t scathing, but feels strong given that WindEurope doesn’t tend to go for public takedowns like this.

The French wind energy association France Energie Eolienne has weighed in too. It last month blasted the government for its offshore targets, after the government said it was targeting 2.4GW of offshore wind capacity by 2023 in its draft energy plan and 5.2GW by 2028. This is a cut from the previous 2028 target of 10GW. Mon dieu!

It is all the more derisory when you consider that France has had projects of 3GW in prospect for more than five years. The government cut the feed-in tariffs of these six schemes from €200/MWh to €150/MWh last year to reflect the falling cost of offshore wind power, but the projects remain in limbo as the government works out who is in  charge of awarding construction permits. It’s a slow and frustrating market.

This is why we called it a laggard in our Emerging Offshore Markets report last week.

This means the grand total of offshore wind capacity operational in French waters is 2MW Vestas turbine at Ideol’s Floatgen floating platform.

And businesses are losing patience too. GE Renewable Energy is reportedly looking at a ‘voluntary departure plan’ as it seeks to cut jobs in its French offshore wind unit, due to delays approving wind farms in French waters. A reported 80 jobs could go at the Haliade turbine factory and design office, out of 370 in its offshore arm in France.

However, we prefer to be optimistic.

We think offshore wind will happen in France – just very slowly. There are problems with permitting, which will put off companies from taking the plunge to invest in new operations in the country. That needn’t be a problem if France could take a relaxed approach to local content, and let manufacturers serve the French market from their factories in other established countries. It might not be popular, but it is possible – the Isle of Wight, where MHI Vestas makes its turbines, is only a short sail away.

And there is continued appetite. In November, the government set out the plans for its 500MW Dunkirk offshore wind tender and there is still interest from pre-qualified bidders. If the winners can deliver projects close to the stunningly low prices in other European market – or zero-subsidy – that could be the kickstart that France needs.

This should happen as long as politicians and private investors want to find a way.

Our only big question mark is over the 3GW projects that won backing between 2012 and 2014, where the government may still think they’re too expensive even after last year’s renegotiation. So will offshore wind happen in France?

For the market as a whole, yes. For those first-wave projects, the jury’s out.

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