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Abstract : “Planning”, “Siting” and the local Acceptance of Wind Power : Some Lessons from the French Case

(Paper accepted for publication in “Energy Policy”)

vendredi 9 octobre 2015, par Alain Nadai


Over the past decade, the European Union (EU) has initiated a process of reforming energy sectors and energy policy. It is within this context that France might be emerging as a new comer in wind power development. After some years of trifling development under a system of public tenders, the policy framework has been changed for feed-in tariffs (December 2000) and wind power development zones (July 2005). The new policy framework has triggered a beginning of takeoff in wind power capacity.

Administrative decisions concerning the authorization of new wind power developments have been transferred at the level of department prefects (subdivision of the regions) and municipalities by the new law. They will be framed by departmental planning and dealt with through siting processes (e.g. construction permits, studies of impact, public inquiries) including both collegial decision-making and public participation. While it is clear that the main issue over the coming years will be the local acceptance of the new projects, mostly related to landscape issues, the question remains open whether or not the new policy scheme might provide the right balance between territorial planning and room for open participation.

The paper examines French wind power development in the light of two key dimensions and concepts related to wind power policy : “planning” and “siting”. Local acceptance refers to issues and processes related to siting. However, planning approaches have dramatically evolved over the past decades : passing from top-down (“rational planning”) to more participative approaches (“communicative planning”), planning tools became more relevant to deal with local acceptance issues. Yet, as political deciders are not always aware of this evolution, they tend to answer to local opposition with hierarchical planning tools, leaving implicit the assumption that such tools might solve siting issues.

The paper is particularly focused on the recent French legislative debate, which led to the adoption of the new policy framework. It shows that landscape and local acceptance issues have been recurring issues in the debate, pushed forward by the protagonists in order to fight a battle, which boiled down to a major issue for French energy policy : decentralization. The new policy scheme builds an interface between planning and siting institutions. It is an interesting association of planning zones with local siting institutions, which can be named “flexible decentralized planning”. Wind power policy stays in the hand of the State, as traditionally is energy policy in France, but it is decentralized and somewhat blended with local siting institutions (e.g. construction permits, studies of impact, public inquiries). The new policy scheme will facilitate the development of big industrial wind power projects in France. However, its capacity to fulfil the role that is allegedly assigned to it - i.e. fostering wind power development (overcoming issues of local acceptance) while limiting its impact on landscape - is difficult to predict. It will largely depend on the use the State administration will make of the decision power that the new scheme provides it with. Hierarchical use of this decision power might reduce the new institutions to mere rational planning schemes and increase local opposition to wind power.
The French case provides a good illustration of how much wind power policy is socially embedded in a countries’ previous energy choices (e.g. nuclear energy, centralization of energy policy, in this case). It shows that the mere replication of another country’s policy scheme (the German scheme, in this case) cannot guarantee equivalent results, because so many other institutional factors play a role in wind power development.