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Monday, December 4, 2023

defend an industry of sovereignty

The lack of visibility, inflation, the search for cheap electricity and Asian competition threaten to cause a strategic sector to fail. However, France needs more than ever to develop this source of renewable energy.

To meet our climate commitments and develop the French industrial sector, maritime wind power must be considered an industry of sovereignty and benefit from support and protection by public authorities.

The advantages of offshore wind power

We must govern based on the needs of the country: there is no energy future for France without maritime wind power. All RTE scenarios, even the most nuclearized, demonstrate this.

If maritime wind power is essential, it is firstly because of its energy benefits: carbon-free, more efficient than other renewables, less visible. European potential is estimated at 300 GW. The first farm in operation in France, commissioned a year ago off the coast of Saint-Nazaire, produces the equivalent of 20% of the electricity consumption of Loire-Atlantique.

The urgency of concrete ecological planning

A year after the commissioning of the first French park in Saint-Nazaire, and while around ten others are in the process of being commissioned, built or allocated, France must take a step forward and provide the means. It is time to implement the long-standing ambition of Jean Luc Mélenchon on this subject.

The energy programming currently being developed must confirm the ambitious objectives of 18 GW installed in 2035 and more than 40 GW in 2050, but it must also plan the concrete and regular path to achieve this. This visibility of the order book is essential for investments in production equipment and port facilities. The creation of a unified public debate by seafront offers the possibility of real spatial and temporal planning to best reconcile the different uses of the sea (fishing, maritime routes, defense, energy) but also the preservation of biodiversity.

Ecological planning must stop being a word borrowed from the speeches of France Insoumise and finally become a concrete reality. A national port strategy must work on complementarities rather than competition, particularly with a view to the development of floating parks. Vocational training needs must be anticipated, from the vocational high school that must be defended, to local higher education courses.

Necessary protectionism

The location of the value chain is another issue. France has solid assets: blade factories in Cherbourg, assembly of turbines in Montoir-de-Bretagne and Le Havre, manufacturing of electrical substations at the Atlantique shipyards in Saint-Nazaire, and even floats even in the Lot without mentioning the cables, or ball bearings. Due to the delay in the construction of French parks, many of our companies have developed exports to Europe.

Today, the race for low prices and the inflationary environment are a double threat. That of the lack of investment or even projects on the one hand, of a sidelining of French suppliers on the other hand. It is essential to protect the sector against unfair international competition (Chinese and tomorrow American?) through protectionist rules in the name of industrial and energy sovereignty, at least on a European scale. Will the EU and France allow a sector of excellence to be destroyed as they abandoned the photovoltaic sector?

On the importance of non-price criteria

This is why the price criterion cannot be the only element discriminating the award of calls for tenders. At 45 euros/MWh in Dunkirk or the English Channel, maritime wind power has already demonstrated its competitiveness compared to other energies, notably nuclear. Seeking only to further reduce these prices exposes the sector to relocation. Elsewhere, the race for price results in unacceptable social dumping, as evidenced by the use of a ship flying the flag of Vanuatu for the construction of the Saint-Brieuc park.

The major players in the sector themselves realize that the race for low costs is strangling them at a time of rising raw materials and bank rates. From an economic and social point of view, as well as in view of popular support for the deployment of maritime wind power, this purely financial logic must be broken. Just as there is a Defense Industrial and Technological Base (BITD), we must take responsibility for building a Renewable Energy Industrial and Technological Base (BITER).

While the giants of the sector are seeking public assistance in the face of inflation, public authorities must support this strategic sector. But it must not do so without demanding compensation for local content and jobs, better ecological claims (for example on full recyclability) and even public or semi-public control of strategic players yesterday sold to GE or Siemens. National interest and general human interest in the face of climate change must prevail over European competition rules whenever necessary.

The Saint-Nazaire wind farm is the pride of a working and industrial area which is embarking on its ecological bifurcation and beginning a new industrial epic. The country can follow this path.