Spain’s Iberdrola has taken a final investment decision to develop the long-awaited €2.4bn ($2.72bn) Saint-Brieuc wind farm after acquiring 100% ownership of Ailes Marines – the company developing, constructing and operating the project off the French coast.

The move comes after the French ministry of economy granted Iberdrola, which previously owned 70% of the consortium’s capital, the go-ahead to acquire the remaining 30% from its two partners, developer RES and finance group Caisse des Depots et Consignations.

“The Saint-Brieuc project is now ready to get started on construction. All agreements are in place, the funding is secured and contracts are signed,” said Jonathan Cole, Iberdrola’s global managing director for offshore wind, who told Recharge the 496MW wind farm will begin operations in 2023.

“Our detailed industrial plan will also support new factories and highly-skilled clean energy jobs in France. We are hoping that the final legal and administrative matters will be concluded quickly, and then this major €2.4bn investment in a cleaner energy future will be ready to run full speed.”

Saint-Brieuc was awarded to the Ailes Marines consortium in a French government tender in 2012, but delayed by a legal challenge after the award was contested by an environmental protection association and a rival company.

In 2019, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s supreme administrative court allowed the project to proceed, rejecting appeals against Saint-Brieuc ruling that criticism regarding the legality of Ailes Marines’ operating license was unfounded.

Located around 16km off the coast of Brittany, the wind farm will be equipped with 62 Siemens Gamesa 8MW turbines, installed in a 75 square km area.

Siemens Gamesa signed agreements last December to build a new turbine and blades factory on a 36-hectare site in the port of Le Havre. The facility, scheduled to start construction in mid-2020 with commissioning at the end of 2021, will be used to supply the Saint-Brieuc, Dieppe-Le Treport, and Yeu-Noirmoutier offshore wind projects.

A joint venture of the Port of Brest, and Spanish companies Navantia and Windar Renovables will fabricate the three-legged jacket foundations for the project. Assembly work will take place both in Spain and on an 11 hectare site in Brest.

“Navantia/Windar are creating this new facility in Brest and working very closely with the local supply chain,” Cole told Recharge. “We are helping to develop local competencies, skill sets and processes, so that after this project the area around Brest is capable of supplying these types of services for projects anywhere in the world.”

Iberdrola expects to confirm all the major outstanding contracts for Saint-Brieuc, including orders for the offshore substation and inter-array lines, over the next few weeks.

French transmission system operator RTE last year placed a €115m contract with cabling giant Nexans for 67km of offshore and 93km of onshore export line for the project.

Offshore construction work is scheduled to begin with the installation of foundation piles in 2021, and to be completed in 2023 with turbines installation and the project being made fully operational.

“Saint-Brieuc has some very specific techniques being deployed for piling foundations and burying the cables because of the ground conditions. So there is a lot of innovative tooling and techniques to be deployed,” Cole told Recharge.

“We also have a power purchase agreement (PPA) in place, negotiated by the French state. We were granted the rights to this offtake arrangement when awarded the project in 2012. The PPA, which lasts for 18 years, will kick in when we start producing power in 2023.

“This is a very important project for Iberdrola. We have been working on Saint-Brieuc for about nine years going through all the various development and administrative processes to get to this point.

“But it’s also a really important project for the offshore wind sector in France because it has taken quite a while to get these first projects up and running. So hopefully this will blaze a trail for all the other projects in France to get built.”

Saint-Brieuc is the only French project underway so far by Iberdrola, which is a pioneer in global offshore wind spanning the UK, Germany and the US.

Cole said: “We are very interested in both offshore and onshore wind in France. Our view is that when you build the type of capability we are building in France, then of course you want to use it, and that means we want to do more projects in the future.”

Delayed start of French industry

Saint-Brieuc is among a clutch of early projects that suffered regulatory delays, holding back offshore wind development off the French coast. The EDF-led 480MW Saint-Nazaire project is due to enter service in 2022, meaning France will enter the commercial-scale offshore wind era years later than planned.

The French government hopes improvements to the regulatory framework and competitive tendering will spur the country to between 5.2GW and 6.2GW by 2028, with floating as well as fixed-bottom projects playing a significant role, in proposals criticised as too modest by the French wind industry.

Under plans unveiled in January, 250MW of floating wind is scheduled to be auctioned in 2021 and 2022 in southern Brittany and the Mediterranean, while 1GW in fixed capacity is due to be tendered-off this year off the coast of Normandy.

Another 1GW in bottom-fixed off the southern Atlantic coast is scheduled to be tendered next year or in 2022, and a further 1GW in fixed offshore at a yet-undisclosed location in 2023.