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France Could Be Next Offshore Wind Powerhouse

A planned multi-billion euro tender could make France one of Europe's largest markets for offshore wind power.

The French government has announced plans to seek investors for a €10 billion ($13.6 billion) project to build the country’s first offshore wind-power facilities. The project calls for the installation of 600 wind turbines at a number of sites along France’s lengthy Atlantic coastline. The turbines will have a total capacity of 3 GW.

With its tender, the French governments hopes to kick-start a local wind-power industry that can not only supply technology to meet French domestic needs but also compete for contracts abroad, according to President Nicolas Sarkozy. “This new sector will represent around 10,000 jobs,” he said in a speech on Tuesday in the western port of Saint-Nazaire.

The wind farm tender, which will be organized by the French energy regulator, is scheduled to go out in April, with winners to be announced in early 2012. The turbines will be installed at five sites off the country’s Atlantic coast between Saint-Nazaire and Dieppel/Le Treport and connect to the grid by 2015.

France is targeting an offshore wind capacity of 6 GW by 2020. Wind power currently represents less than 2 percent of the country’s output capacity, with nuclear power plants claiming the lion’s share – nearly 75 percent.

To meet its goal of producing 23 percent of its power needs with renewable resources by 2020, the country aims to have a total wind-power capacity of 25 GW by that time, for an investment of €20 billion.

French utility EDF and equipment manufacturer Alstom recently announced plans to bid jointly on the tender. Another big French utility GDF Suez is also expected to enter the bidding fray, as are German manufacturer Siemens and Denmark’s Vestas.  

Other big offshore wind farms are being developed in Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands.

According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one megawatt produced by offshore wind power costs €3.5 million, compared to €1.6 million by onshore wind power. 

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