the National Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN) “Go twice as fast on renewable energy projects (ENR)”. From Saint-Nazaire, where he inaugurated the first French offshore wind farm on Thursday, Emmanuel Macron reiterated his wish to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy in France. And this, while thousands of offshore wind turbines are already connected to the grid in Europe.
It is that in this area, France is a bad student. “We are the only EU country not to have reached its target of 23% renewables in its final energy consumption in 2020, recalls Jean-Baptiste Lebrun, director of the Cler-Network for energy transition. We were at 19.3% again last year, while our potential (spaces, winds, sunshine, etc.) is very high. »
Correcting the situation was one of the key measures of candidate Macron’s program for his re-election. It must materialize in a bill on the acceleration of renewable energies which will be presented this Monday to the Council of Ministers.
The red line of environmental regression
But the text did not wait to make people talk about it, over the critical opinions issued by the commissions consulted in recent weeks. The National Council for Ecological Transition (CNTE) – heterogeneous commission of environmental organizations, trade unions, local authorities…- certainly recognizes “the urgency of accelerating the deployment of renewable energies” in France. “The challenge is no longer just carbon neutrality, but also energy sovereignty, which is becoming even more imperative with the war in Ukraine”, executive Amandine Lebreton, director of advocacy and forecasting at the Foundation for Nature and Man (FNH), member of the CNTE. In this context, “the only short-term levers are sobriety and massive investment in renewable energies”, she continues.
But at what price should we go twice as fast on renewable energies? If they make it possible to move towards carbon neutrality, their deployment can also be done to the detriment of biodiversity, “whose current erosion is an issue just as important as climate change”, recalls Yves Verilhac, CEO of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO).
However, for the CNTE as the National Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN), another commission consulted, this bill poses the risk of environmental regression. In particular when it seeks to reduce the procedural delays through which ENR projects must pass. This is one of the main obstacles in France. “It takes an average of 5 years of procedures to build a solar park requiring a few months of work, 7 years for a wind farm and 10 years for an offshore wind farm, recalls the executive in the explanatory memorandum of the bill. . Our European partners often go twice as fast. »
An article decried by NGOs has been withdrawn
Article 3 then provided, temporarily, until the end of the five-year term, to raise more easily the thresholds to which projects are subject to environmental assessment. In France, on wind power for example, this evaluation is systematic from the first mast, “against only above 10 masts in Spain and 20 in Germany”, thus compares the bill. This article divided the CNTE. Some of these members – such as the Medef – looked favorably on this step towards European harmonization of the rules. NGOs, they denounced a breach of the principle of environmental non-regression. They will be joined by the CNPN which fears the desire to align itself with “the lowest bidder” of the European partner countries”. This “does not take into account the lack of knowledge of the impacts generated by certain sectors on biodiversity and the means of mitigating them”, writes the commission in its opinion.
The NGOs, which then demanded the deletion of this article, won their case. The government announced its withdrawal on Wednesday. But the questions are not limited to this single proposal of the bill. Amandine Lebreton also cites “the imperative reason of major public interest (RIIPM)”. This status, introduced by article 6, could be granted to certain renewable energy projects, “meeting the technical conditions defined by decree by the Council of State”. “This will make it possible to legally secure the projects in the event of litigation, which are sources of delays and difficulties, linked to a request for derogation from the obligation of strict protection of protected species”, specifies the bill. “This amounts to making renewable energies a priority over other subjects of public interest, typically the preservation of biodiversity, continues Amandine Lebreton. This competition is dangerous. »
Are renewable energies and biodiversity reconcilable?
However, for both the FNH and the LPO or the Cler, it is possible to reconcile renewable energies and biodiversity. This bill would just do it the wrong way. “Rather than lifting regulatory barriers, it would be much more appropriate to stop cutting positions within the environmental services that investigate cases,” says Yves Verilhac. This is also what lengthens the delays. »
Jean-Baptiste Lebrun believes that simplifications of procedures are possible and desirable, “without cutting corners on the attention paid to the environment”. “But this is not the logic retained by the government which preferred to opt for this principle of derogation, he regrets. Not only is it blurry. What is meant by “major public interest” is not sufficiently defined, nor is it clear which projects will benefit from it. But it is also dangerous, including for project leaders. »
Absences in the text?
Beyond these derogations, the bill is also criticized for the absences it includes. Amandine Lebreton points out a major one: “photovoltaic on the roof and the self-consumption that it allows are not addressed, she observes. However, this solution makes it possible to deploy renewable energies without artificializing the soil, a major challenge for biodiversity. But it also improves the purchasing power of individuals who install these panels, if only by allowing them to have greater stability in energy prices. »
Article 12 still imposes the installation of solar shades on existing outdoor car parks of more than 2,500 m² on at least half of the surface. “This threshold should be divided by five,” said Jean-Baptiste Lebrun. A call to parliamentarians? They will look at the text from the end of October, starting with the Senate.