CHERBOURG, France, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- France moved this week to accelerate the development of its marine renewable energy sector, hoping to tap the promising potential of its tidal basins.
Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Delphine Batho announced Monday in Normandy the launching of a call for expressions of interest to promote demonstration projects in tidal energy, wave energy, floating wind and ocean thermal technologies.
She also revealed the Maritime Prefecture of Cherbourg would initiate a "broad consultation" and planning work to identify areas where new undersea "pilot farms" could be installed in the Raz Blanchard, a sea passage between the western tip of the Cap de la Hague and the Channel Island of Alderney.
The passage boasts one of the tidal currents strongest in Europe, which can reach 12 knots during the spring equinox tides.
If built, the pilot farms would join an ongoing effort by French renewable energy company DCNS and the Irish firm OpenHydro, which last year began work on a similar project featuring four marine current turbines in the Raz Blanchard on behalf of the French energy giant EDF.
The push to develop marine renewables as well as wind power comes at a time when the country is having a national debate on transitioning from its historic dependence on nuclear energy. French President Francoise Hollande has pledged to reduce nuclear power's 75 percent share of the energy mix to 50 percent by 2025.
The French minister announced the "concrete steps" to boost marine renewables while visiting port facilities in Cherbourg, where the Ports of Normandy Authority is carrying out a $130 million upgrade to accommodate the building of four major offshore wind farms in the channel.
Accompanying her was Bernard Cazeneuve, France's minister for European affairs and former deputy mayor of Cherbourg. Leaders of renewable energy firms such as Alstom and DCNS as well as the French energy multinationals EDF and GDF-Suez were also present, Le Monde reported.
"France, with the second-most potential European tidal energy (after Britain), has a leading position to take," Batho said. "I know that industry is waiting for a clear signal of government support marine energy, as well as visibility. I can ensure that the timing they require to develop the sector will be met."
GDF-Suez is also working on a Raz Blanchard marine energy pilot farm, working with Germany's Voith Hydro and French shipbuilder CMN on a $25 million-$40 million effort that would include up to six undersea turbines.
It's working as well with the French start-up Sabella in developing another project in the Fromveur passage between the island of Ushant and the tip of Brittany, the newspaper reported.
"The public actors should give a green light so that we can advance past the pre-marketing phase of the tidal farms," GDF Suez Vice President Jean-Francois Cirelli said. "This step is important to confirm the technological and economic viability of the projects."
He added governments must also set out the framework within which the entire industry can work, such as confirming the test areas and developing a financial mechanism to make them more attractive to investors.