Europe

bad student, France goes to catch up

Emmanuel Macron returned Thursday the first offshore wind farm in France, off Saint-Nazaire, before the presentation, scheduled for Monday in the Council of Ministers, of a bill to accelerate renewable energies. A “good signal” for NGOs, but which remains to be confirmed.

There was an impression of attending the skilful remediation of a bad student, Thursday, September 22, in Saint-Nazaire. Inaugurating France’s first offshore wind farm, off the coasts of Pouliguen and Croizic, Emmanuel Macron described his energy transition strategy, assuring that France was on the right track, despite a significant delay in energy renewable.

“It’s a pioneering project because it carries within it the answers to the challenges of the moment”, he declared about the offshore wind farm. But the President of the Republic warned: “We have to go at least twice as fast on renewable energy projects”. “We need a massive acceleration,” he added.

The strategy described by Emmanuel Macron, in line with his speech in Belfort last February, pursues three objectives: ensuring France’s energy sovereignty, decarbonizing French energy and providing energy at affordable costs. To achieve this, the Head of State is focusing on sobriety, with a 40% drop in energy consumption by 2050, and an increase, at the same time, in electricity production by 40% thanks to more production from nuclear power, but also from renewable energies.

Hence the will, expressed again on Thursday, to put the turbo on renewable energies (EnR) with the presentation to the Council of Ministers, Monday, September 26, of a bill to accelerate renewable energies.

Because in this area, Paris is clearly a class cancer. France is the only country in the European Union not to have met its objectives concerning the share of renewable energies in its final energy consumption. This was only 19.1% in 2020 while the target was set at 23%, according to figures published last January by Eurostat, the European statistical office.

A French delay linked to “a very clear lack of political will”

For Emmanuel Macron and the government, these latecomers are mainly due to French red tape. The bill which will arrive in Parliament in the fall therefore intends to remove these blockages.

Thus, between compliance with public law in terms of building permits, compliance with environmental law, public consultations and energy law, it now takes on average ten years for an offshore site enters service in France, against five in Germany, six in the United Kingdom. For onshore wind, it’s seven years, twice as long as in Spain or Germany, and photovoltaic is perhaps better off with five years of procedure.

>> To read: Renewable energies: France wants to catch up on offshore wind power

The bill aims to shorten project implementation times thanks to transitional measures, for 48 months, to simplify procedures (extension of public voting by electronic means), increase the possibilities for installing solar panels (on abandoned along motorways, degraded land, existing car parks in the form of carports, etc. or even pooling debates by seafront for offshore wind power.

But if these blockages are very real, they do not explain all the delays taken by France concerning renewable energies. “There has first been a very clear lack of political will in recent years with a government that has long had a halftone speech on renewable energies”, affirms Zélie Victor, energy transition manager within the NGO Climate Action Network. “Because the blockages also come from the lack of human and financial resources to process files at the level of communities or state services, she specifies. However, the fact of not having a clear framework has created difficulties. ‘indecision among some actors.’

>> To read: Gas, electricity: what scenarios in France in the event of a shortage of energy?

The prefectures, in particular, have reduced the number of authorizations issued over the past three years, according to France Énergie Éolienne. A recent circular now asks the prefects to “facilitate the processing” of files.

The National Council for Ecological Transition (CNTE), seized by Matignon in early August to render an opinion on the bill, shares this analysis. In his opinion published on September 8, he attributes France’s delay in renewable energy to several factors: “the lack of prior planning, including in terms of jobs and skills; the complexity of certain administrative procedures the slowness and the lack of anticipation of the evaluations; the successive modifications of the regulations; the insufficiency of the human and financial means of the State and the communities to instruct and monitor the projects and support the structuring of certain energy sectors renewable”.

In addition, the CNTE “regrets the late implementation of legislative measures to accelerate the deployment of renewable energies, given the time required to benefit from their products”.

“A very good signal” for renewable energies

However, and even if “it is the energy crisis that has just caused the government to become aware”, according to Zélie Victor of Réseau Action Climat, the renewable energy acceleration bill is “a very good signal” for renewable energies and “their role in responding to the climate and energy crisis”.

Contacted by AFP, France Énergie Éolienne considers that this text can ultimately contribute to installing renewables in the landscape, in particular by reducing the electricity bill for residents of parks, or by planning offshore wind power. by seafront – and not only locally – for a longer term vision.

It remains to be seen what exactly the future law contains when it is voted, in principle at the end of the year. Réseau Action Climat judges it as it is “still unclear” and believes that it has several holes in the racket.

>> To see: A slow energy transition: has France kept its COP21 commitments?

“The current text does not deal with all renewable energies, but essentially with offshore wind power and photovoltaics, analyzes Zélie Victor. There are gaps in onshore wind power. Even chosen with regard to photovoltaics which could be further developed on roofs. We are therefore waiting to see how this bill will be consolidated because as it stands, it does not live up to ambitions on all subjects.

To show her good will and gather as much as possible, the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, took a step towards environmental associations on Wednesday, by withdrawing a controversial article from the text of the law. The article in question – Article 3 – aimed to raise the thresholds at which projects had to be subject to an environmental impact assessment, with the aim of accelerating wind or solar installations. NGOs considered that it was legally questionable because it would have represented a derogation from the principle of non-regression of environmental law, ratified by a law of 2016.

In addition, the “criteria determining the future thresholds for triggering an environmental assessment (reported in implementing decrees) do not make it possible to estimate the extent of the consequences of the project on biodiversity”, had alerted the National Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN).

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