Draft French renewable energy bill lacks ‘overall strategy’, critics say – EURACTIV.com

Draft French renewable energy bill lacks ‘overall strategy’, critics say – EURACTIV.com

French President Emmanuel Macron will present a bill to accelerate the deployment of renewable energies at the Saint-Nazaire offshore wind farm on Thursday (22 September), despite critics who say the draft is falling short on ambition.

Read the original French article here.

Renewables were targeted to account for 23% of France’s energy mix by 2020, but as it accounts for just 19.1%, the government has made the doubling of renewables one of its flagship projects.

Among the proposed reforms, the government wants to simplify the procedure for granting permits to new projects as it takes “an average of five years of procedures to build a solar farm […], seven years for a wind farm and ten years for an offshore wind farm,” while other EU countries are often twice as fast.

The bill is based mainly on the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan presented in May, which seeks to speed up procedures for renewable energy projects in reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine. It also comes in response to EU economic policy recommendations, which singled out France for its “restrictive regulation and high administrative and permitting barriers.”

Temporary measures

One of the bill’s first proposals is to align public consultations on renewable energy projects with opinions gathered by government services and local authorities.

However, without safeguards, this could weaken the opinions of the public and the bodies competent to look into such projects, according to an opinion on the bill issued by France’s national ecological transition committee (CNTE).

The bill also proposes to unify the different public consultations, further digitalise public participation for projects subject to prior declaration, and facilitate the compatibility of urban planning documents.

But here too, the CNTE regrets “the absence of provisions relating to the involvement of citizens and communities in new projects”.

Looser environmental standards

Controversially, the draft government bill proposes an easier revision process of national environmental standards in order to better align with EU legislation.

On this, CNTE reminds France about the “non-regression” principle, which stipulates that green standards and biodiversity rules should never be relaxed, even if the objective is to align with EU law.

To prevent this, CNTE urges the government to refer the matter to the National Biodiversity Committee and the National Council for Nature Conservation.

The proposed measure has also been criticised by Green lawmaker Charles Fournier, who told EURACTIV.fr that the government is running the risk of sacrificing biodiversity protection for the sake of promoting the renewables industry.

Little on wind and solar

Surprisingly, the fast-growing solar and wind industry is not so prominent in the draft bill.

The bill does proposes greater powers for the government to simplify connection of renewable capacity to the electricity grid, in line with the EU Commission recommendations.

But it lacks detail when it comes to the selection of areas suitable for the deployment of solar farms or a clear definition of agrivoltaics, the CNTE noted.

On offshore wind power, CNTE calls for the bill to consider economic, social and environmental issues, while Fournier insists on the necessity to involve local actors and citizens.

The French green deputy favours giving more competence to the regions and inter-municipalities. He says this is particularly important since a law adopted in February gave mayors who oppose renewable energy projects the right to refuse them without any justification.

“This is neither an emergency response text nor a planning text. The timetable is not clear, and it is, therefore, difficult to read its ambitions,” said Fournier, who offers a helping hand to the government in redrafting the proposals.

CNTE, for its part, says the draft bill lacks coherence, and the timing of some measures reinforces “the risk of instability and legal insecurity”.

According to the committee, the bill also misses measures to train staff so they can speed up procedures – an issue Fournier says leads to situations in which some ready-to-use projects are not implemented.

Despite these shortcomings, the CNTE still gave the bill its general go-ahead.

However, it called on the government to clarify its “global strategy” so that France can reach the EU’s renewable energy target for 2030, which the European Parliament recently set at 45% of the bloc’s overall energy consumption.

European Parliament backs 45% renewable energy goal for 2030

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday (14 September) in favour of a 45% target for renewable energy in the EU’s energy mix by 2030, paving the way for negotiations with the 27 member states to finalise the text before the end of the year.

[Edited by Alice Taylor and Frédéric Simon]

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