France says 'oui' to offshore wind energy

French fries. French toast. French turbines. A $14 billion program aims to give the country its first taste of offshore wind power.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Nuclear plants often spring to mind when thinking of the French electric power regime. But the country is dipping its toes into the Atlantic and English Channel for some of its energy needs, joining a few of its neighbors in the offshore wind business. Across Europe, offshore wind farms have a total capacity of almost 3,000 megawatts, according to the EWEA. By 2020, France hopes to add 6,000 megawatts to it.

On Monday, the French government began asking for project proposals for 5 zones off the northern and western coasts near Saint-Nazaire and Le Tréport, respectively. The $14 billion call did not go unanswered. Six companies (Dong Energy, EDF Energies Nouvelles, Alstom, Nass&Wind Offshore, Poweo ENR, and wpd offshore) have been gearing up to go to sea. They announced a consortium yesterday to help get the country's first offshore turbines built, up and whirring.

France has been looking to expand its renewable portfolio, even toying with the idea of abandoning its notable nuclear program. In 2010, France met about 74 percent of its power needs via nuclear energy.While ditching all nuclear generation remains unlikely for France's future, more turbines could be on the horizon. The country's terrestrial turbines, Reuters reports, represent just 2 percent of its power output.

Its first wind turbines could hit the water as early as 2015. Alstom says it hopes to design, manufacture, and assemble the turbines all in France using French technology.

On this side of the Atlantic, offshore wind aspirations picked up momentum this week as well. The U.S. Interior Department opened up a draft Environmental Assessment to public comment. The EA concerns the potential building of wind farms within four areas off the East Coast. It is part of an initiative to streamline the offshore permit process to help spur investments and get North America's first offshore turbines spinning. Together, the areas cover almost 800 square nautical miles of the the Outer Continental Shelf off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

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Images: DONG Energy and Boemre

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