By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - The French wind industry expects strong growth in 2016 due to deregulation but a long-awaited third tender for offshore wind turbines may not happen before year end, an industry group said.
France Energie Eolienne (FEE) said new wind turbine installations in 2015 had been virtually flat at 1073 megawatt (MW), compared with 1042 MW in 2014 and about 700 MW in 2013. Total wind capacity in France now stands at 10,293 MW.
"We expect at least 1,100-1,200 MW in 2016 thanks to simplification measures taken by the government," FEE Chief Executive Sonia Lioret told Reuters on Thursday.
Lioret said new turbine installation in France had been slowed for years by laws that required all wind farms to have a least five turbines and strong local control over wind farm zoning.
The scrapping of the five-turbine rule in 2014 and a new simplified permitting procedure put in place by the 2015 energy transition law should boost investment this year, she said.
One onshore turbine costs about 1.5 million euros ($1.63 million), which could lead to investment of up to 1.8 billion euros in 2016.
Lioret said FEE and renewable energy federation SER were in talks with the government about the procedure for a third offshore wind tender in France, but she said there was no guarantee a new tender could take place this year.
In May 2014, France awarded a 4 billion euro tender for 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind to French utility Engie, after a 2012 tender awarded 2,000 megawatts to consortia led by EDF and Spain's Iberdrola.
France targets combined offshore windpower capacity of 6,000 MW by 2020, but is behind schedule, as the first turbines will not start connecting to the grid before 2019 or 2020.
The energy ministry wanted to launch a third tender in 2015, but slow implementation of the first two and negotiations about the new tender procedure have caused delays.
In the first tenders, the government encouraged bidders to commit to French jobs and turbine technologies and forced bidders to commit to pricing before tests of wind and seabed conditions had been completed.
This pushed prices to more than double international levels. The industry is keen on a new tender, but prefers to wait until more transparent procedures are agreed with the state.
"We hope the tender will be launched before early 2017," FEE president Frederic Lanoe said, referring to the French presidential election next year.
($1 = 0.9191 euros)
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Susan Thomas)