France Adopts Controversial Law Aimed at Boosting Renewables

(Bloomberg) -- France adopted a law to accelerate the development of renewable energies to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and gas, even as critics said it will actually slow onshore wind and solar projects.

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Parliament approved the government-endorsed legislation, which was presented last year as a way to quickly lower France’s dependence on fossil fuels after Russia reduced gas shipments to Europe. It was also aimed at addressing concern over possible energy shortages after nuclear reactors faced lengthy shutdowns for maintenance and repairs.

In a bid to boost public acceptance, the law empowers local authorities to create preferred go-to and no-go areas for renewable projects, and to financially benefit from future developments. Among other items, it also adds an general obligation for investors to cover new buildings and large parking lots with solar panels, and will ban new photovoltaic projects that require sizable deforestation.

While French utility Engie SA said the legislation includes “significant breakthroughs” to quicken offshore wind projects, and shortens development processes in dedicated “acceleration” areas, smaller rival Neoen SA said the definition of go-to zones will take years to emerge and put many developments on hold.

“We’re already seeing a slowdown,” Neoen Chief Executive Officer Xavier Barbaro said on BFM Business television last week. “We’ll have acceleration areas in 2027, and in the meantime everyone will put down their pencil. We’re going to have four years of freeze.”

Neoen and Engie SA are currently seeking to develop France’s largest solar project, which would entail cutting hundreds of hectares of forestry, while replanting twice as many trees.

Like Neoen, Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, the country’s main renewable industry lobby, complained that the law will soon ban large solar projects that requires cutting trees, even when taking into account tree-planting proposals. The law also introduces a “visual saturation” criteria that will further toughen local acceptance of onshore wind projects, the trade group said.

However, SER welcomed the legislation, which should quicken legal proceedings, and urged the government to mobilize more people to shorten permitting processes. A series of “technical measures” will help the development of hydropower, geothermal energy, heat, biogas and renewable gases. Better planning of offshore developments will also help, the lobby said.

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