Despite falling FITs: GP Joule focuses on France

GP Joule wants to expand its PV portfolio in the southern French region of Aquitaine to 150 MW by 2014.

The company operates a 40 MW plant near the village of Pompogne, 150 km northwest of Toulouse and announced at the plant’s inauguration last week that it wants to develop 11 new turnkey projects with French developer 2ndSky. GP Joule intends to sell the plants to investors once complete.

"We have secured feed-in-tariffs for these PV plants in a range of €0.10 to €0.11/kWh", GP Joule-CFO André Hirsch explained.

Although these numbers are significantly less than the 32 cents the company is receiving for the first 40 MW project in France, Hirsch expects to offer investors "attractive returns. We will achieve an after tax yield, ranging between 8 and 9%", he told pv magazine.

That is the level of return offered by the Pompogne project that has been acquired by Aquila Capital, which will structure the asset for German institutional investors, Aquila Capital manager Boris Beltermann said.

Aquila acquires 100 MW in France

Aquila has bought around 100 MW of solar parks in France for its private and institutional clientele. "Unlike Spain or Greece, France has reliable political and juridical regulations offering good opportunities for sustainable investments in solar power", added Beltermann.

GP Joule’s Hirsch said reduced module prices and lower administrative and operating costs mean France is still an attractive market despite falling FIT incentives.

Board member and founder Heinrich Gärtner predicts it will be possible to realize solar parks in southern France commercially for €0.08/kWh within 12 months.

But uncertainty surrounds the FIT payments on offer going into 2014, with the level of payment available since April having fallen more than 25% on the same period last year.

French energy regulator the Commission de Régulation d’Énergie (CRE) adjusts the FITs every three months depending on the amount of capacity approved.

From January to March, France connected 100 MW of PV power to the national grid, not including foreign territories. The overall installed capacity rose to 3.23 MW – 3.63 MW including overseas regions.

Nuclear to be reined in

Energy is high up the political agenda and prior to his election, President Francois Hollande had announced a desire to reduce the proportion of nuclear in the energy mix from 75 to 50% by 2025.

"It is quite uncertain which role solar power will play if France really reduces the output of nuclear energy", Frank Menschel, president of 2ndSky told pv magazine. "Wind power will probably be the first choice. But certainly there is still a huge potential for PV in France that the energy policy won’t neglect."

Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO of French electronic company Schneider Electric, named wind and solar "important strategic advantages" for the economic future of the country. In an article he wrote for national paper Les Echos last week, he urged France to seize the opportunity the energy transition could offer.