MAYENNE, France, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- France has instituted a series of "emergency measures" to revive its flagging solar energy industry, Energy Minister Delphine Batho said this week.
Appearing Monday at the MPO Energy solar panel plant in Mayenne, France, Batho said the government has doubled its target for annual photovoltaic energy growth from 500 megawatts to 1,000 megawatts and is seeking to build large-scale solar farms under the measures.
The minister said the decisions constitute an "emergency response" to help the solar energy industry in the country remain viable at a time when it is reeling following the loss of thousands of jobs during the government of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The new subsidies are meant to spark $2.6 billion in private investments and create or maintain about 10,000 jobs at an added average cost of $1.30-$2.60 per year on energy bills of French households.
French solar manufacturers are also taking a hit from Chinese PV panels that officials say are being unfairly dumped in the European market at below cost. As part of the decree signed Monday, a 10 percent feed-in tariff bonus will be awarded to French buyers of European-made PV panels.
"The challenge is to show that the French industry has a card to play on products with high added-value and that the battle is not lost, even in a fiercely competitive environment," Batho told Le Monde.
The European Commission in September launched an investigation of alleged "dumping" of Chinese-made solar cells, modules and photovoltaic wafers, as well looking into alleged subsidies handed out by China to its solar panel makers.
For its part, China has protested to the World Trade Organization.
Batho, however, said the bonuses to be paid to European-made panel buyers are "consistent with the energy code," Le Parisien reported.
Under the decree, annual growth targets for small rooftop installations will double from 200 megawatts to 400 megawatts per year and pricing will be simplified to end the distinction between facilities depending on the use of the building.
Meanwhile, a new push will be made to establish new, large-scale solar farms.
The government has submitted a new tender for large PV plants with a volume of 400 megawatts, which are to also to be used to develop and research solar technologies as well as help redevelop polluted "brownfield" sites.
A second call for tenders will be launched during 2013, specifically targeting other innovative technologies in the solar field.
The moves come after French President Francoise Hollande in November initiated a national "energy transition debate" over the future mix of France's energy sector, which is now largely dependent on nuclear power.
Hollande campaigned against continued reliance on nuclear power in the run-up to his May 6 defeat of center-right incumbent Sarkozy and has since repeated his pledge to cut nuclear power's share of the energy mix from 75 to 50 percent by 2025.
Batho said the moves to prop up the solar industry are necessary to keep it viable as the country awaits the outcome of the debate at the end of this year.
"The national debate on energy transition will define a predictable, stable and sustainable development of solar energy and other renewable energies in the context of the 2025 goal set by the President Hollande," she said.