January 18, 2018 / 4:58 PM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 2-France sets out plan to double wind power capacity

* Reforms designed to cut bureaucratic, legal processes

* Targeting 26 GW onshore wind generation capacity by 2023

* French activists have campaigned to block wind projects

* GRAPHIC-Europe's wind power capacity: tmsnrt.rs/2zPjhiw (Adds details on measures, wind lobby comments, background)

By Bate Felix

PARIS, Jan 18 (Reuters) - France announced a 10-point scheme on Thursday to halve the time it takes to get onshore wind farms up and running and double the amount of electricity generated by turbines by 2023 as part of a plan to reduce its dependence on nuclear energy.

The proposals aim to counter opposition from activists who have frustrated the country’s attempts to hit renewable energy targets by obstructing wind power projects with appeals at every step of the approval process.

Under the Ministry of Ecology’s 10-point plan, opponents of wind farms will no longer be allowed to lodge appeals with Administrative Tribunals, a move the government says will reduce the approval process by up to three years.

“Currently, it takes seven to nine years to develop onshore wind projects,” said French junior ecology minister Sebastien Lecornu, adding that overall the reforms would halve that time.

At the moment, onshore wind farms in France produce 12.9 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, well short of the country’s target of 26 GW by 2023 and less than a third of the amount generated by turbines in Germany.

France has authorised the installation of another 10 GW of wind power capacity but the projects are bogged down in lengthy appeals in administrative courts.

“These are measures in the right direction,” said Pauline Le Bertre, a senior official at French wind industry lobby group France Energie Eolienne (FEE). “They are not aimed at ending appeals but will speed up the process of dealing with them.

Le Bertre said the reforms would give investors a clear, long-term view on the French wind power sector and allow France not only to hit its 2023 target, but to set a more ambitious goal for the future.

The government has said it plans to adopt the proposed reforms as soon as possible.

RED TAPE AND TAXES

Other measures include cutting red tape such as the need for extra approvals to connect wind farms to the grid, getting civil aviation authorities involved earlier and limiting the time frame new objections can be added to existing appeals to two months.

The government said it would clarify the rules on whether existing wind farms needed to apply for new licences when current ones expire. It also plans to encourage crowdfunding for wind projects, develop a good practice guide for the sector and integrate wind farms into the countryside better.

France, which depends on its 58 nuclear reactors for more than 75 percent of its electricity, lags some other European countries such as Germany in developing renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro power and biomass.

Renewable energy sources accounted for less than 20 percent of French electricity consumption with wind farms contributing 4 percent in 2017, compared with 19 percent in Germany.

France had hoped to cut its dependence on nuclear energy to 50 percent by 2025 but has pushed back the deadline by five to 10 years.

French activists across the country in the Federation Environnement Durable (FED) led by Jean-Louis Butre have been systematically filing appeals against wind projects through administrative courts, which can take years to hear cases.

Neither Butre nor FED responded immediately to requests for comment.

“The direct consequence of this is a lengthening of the time it takes to complete a project - seven to nine years on average - compared to three to four years in Germany,” the government said in a statement about the new proposals.

To soften local opposition, the government also proposed in its plan to pay 20 percent of a business tax (IFER) on wind farms directly to communities where turbines operate.

The blinking red warning beacons on the top of turbines have also repeatedly been cited as an annoyance in appeals against wind projects. The government proposed making half constant and leaving half blinking, as a warning to aircraft.

“There are several aspects on which the proposals would have gone further, such as on the issue of blinking beacons, but this is a real step in the right direction,” FEE’s Le Bertre said.

Reporting by Bate Felix; editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and David Clarke

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