France Launches Rescue Plan for Struggling Solar Sector

From Reuters

By Michel Rose

France doubled the production capacity target and offered more financial support to small photovoltaic farms, which use European-made panels, in a bid to rescue the country’s ailing solar sector.

Energy Minister Delphine Batho announced the measures, which are expected to spur investments worth over 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion), during a visit to a solar panel factory in Western France.

The Socialist government is seeking to rescue an industry which has lost about 15,000 jobs in the last two years, after the previous conservative government tried to dampen a speculative bubble in solar power installations. In 2012, the sector employed 18,000 people, down from 32,500 in 2010.

The production capacity target will double to 1,000 megawatts (MW) per year, or the equivalent capacity of a small nuclear power reactor, Batho said.

France will also add a bonus of up to 10 percent on feed-in-tariffs – state-backed subsidies paid to generators of solar power – for small solar farms using panels made in Europe.

“Many jobs were lost because of the (former) government’s yoyo policies. But we will fight… to develop the ecological competitiveness of France,” Batho told reporters.

These emergency measures, which take effect when a decree is published later this year, are being sought to support the solar industry until a wide energy law is drawn after the government’s so-called “energy transition debate”.

Jean-Louis Bal, the head of France’s main renewable energy sector lobby SER, said the measures would allow the sector to survive in the short-term but did not offer long-term visibility for the industry.

“However it’s the first positive message from the government in over three years,” Bal told reporters on the sidelines of the visit.

France is slowly embracing heavily-subsidized renewable energies, such as wind and sun power, which make up 13 percent of energy consumption, well below the 23 percent target set by former President Nicolas Sarkozy for 2020.

Across the Rhine in Germany, the installed capacity for wind and solar electricity production is already equivalent to France’s 58 nuclear reactors, even though the output is highly variable.

China announced last month it had added a further $1.1 billion in subsidies to its solar power sector, more than doubling its support in 2012.

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