Critics say French state aid scheme will crush citizen energy projects

The new scheme approved by the Commission will be used to support the development of small solar installations on the roofs of buildings with a capacity of up to 500 kilowatts. [Juice Verve/Shutterstock]

The European Commission has given the green light to a new French aid scheme worth €5.7 billion aimed at supporting the production of electricity from solar rooftop installations. But because it cannot be coupled with other local and regional funding schemes, citizen solar panel projects will probably grind to a halt, campaigners have warned. EURACTIV France reports.

The long-anticipated plan, approved by the Commission on Friday (27 August), was welcomed as “a positive move” by Énergie Partagée, a citizen energy movement.

But a “discrete provision” – which does not allow for the new scheme to be coupled with other local and regional schemes – could “partly ruin this progress,” warned Alexandra Lafont-Kaufmann, advocacy officer at Énergie Partagée.

This “will primarily affect local or citizen projects, which often require financial support,” she said, adding that projects “located in the northern half of the country” in particular will be most heavily impacted. Subsidies are all the more important in areas with little sunshine as the installation costs take longer to recoup.

This concern is shared by Patrick Gèze, co-president of EnerCit’if, a solar energy cooperative operating in Paris, who warned that “the devil is in the details.”

Because the cost of electricity is the same in the southern city of Nice and the northern city of Lille – where sunshine levels are very different – the ban on coupling the new aid schemes with others would force citizens in northern France to dig deeper into their pockets, he said.

France trailing behind EU renewable energy goals

The European Union is expected to soon raise its renewable energy target for 2030, and France, which has already largely missed its 2020 goal, could have difficulties in meeting the new objective. EURACTIV France reports.

A different approach

The new scheme approved by the Commission will be used to support the development of small solar installations on the roofs of buildings with a capacity of up to 500 kilowatts, but this time, without calls for tenders having to be made.

Rather, households or small companies interested in putting up solar panels will be eligible to receive support in the form of a guaranteed price for the electricity produced for over 20 years.

The renewable energy syndicate, an industry group, said it was pleased with this new financial plan: “This new support system has long been expected by the industry: the first announcements were made in 2020,” said Alexandre Roesch, general delegate of the union.

“For small projects, the tender system was not very effective,” said Roesch. “As an SME, when we are competing in a tender with professional project leaders, we are not dealing with the same types of actors,” he added.

“The measure strengthens support for the development of renewable energy sources while ensuring equal competition conditions on the French energy market,” said European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager in a press release, noting that the aid scheme should help France “in its transition to an environmentally sustainable energy supply.” 

The EU’s Competition Commissioner further said that the new scheme would complement another French state aid scheme worth €30.5 billion to finance solar, hydro and onshore wind projects the Commission approved in July 2020.

No choice but to speed up renewable energy share

It appears France would have no choice but to speed up its renewable energy production to support the EU in its objectives set out in the Fit for 55 package. The document, unveiled in July 2020, states that the EU’s share of renewables should reach 40% of the bloc’s energy mix by 2030 – even though France has so far set its own 2030 goal to 33%.

The new €5.7 billion scheme is scheduled to be published in the French parliament’s official journal in mid-September.

Until then, Énergie Partagée is calling for its cancellation, as well as the creation of a “photovoltaic support system that takes into account the heterogeneity of the solar industry in France.”

It's crunch time for France's tumultuous renewable energy debate

As the debate on renewable energies and nuclear rages across France, nuclear proponents, environmentalists, scientists and politicians will have to set aside their differences in order to advance the energy transition. EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond, Daniel Eck]

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