By Nia Williams
(Reuters) -France's first commercial-scale offshore wind farm started full operations on Wednesday, adding 480 megawatts of capacity to the grid at a time when Europe is scrambling to secure energy supplies following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Saint-Nazaire wind farm, located between 12 and 20 km off France's west coast, consists of 80 turbines and will provide clean energy to power the equivalent of 400,000 homes annually, or 20% of the Loire-Atlantique region's electricity consumption.
The project is co-owned by EDF Renewables and EIH Sarl, a subsidiary of Canada's Enbridge Inc, and CPP Investments.
Calgary-based Enbridge, best known for its North American oil pipeline network, is trying to grow its renewables portfolio and is a partner in three other French wind projects currently under construction including a floating wind farm pilot.
Enbridge Chief Executive Al Monaco said renewables were a big part of the company's overall strategy, and Europe represented about 100 gigawatts of opportunity for new projects due to strong demand for clean power.
"Europe is still a very big focus for us and will be for some time," Monaco told Reuters in an interview.
The Saint-Nazaire project took 10 years to complete. In September, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the site and vowed to cut red tape to halve the time it takes in France to get renewable projects off the ground.
France is aiming to produce a third of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and earlier this year. Macron said he wants France to have about 50 offshore wind farms by 2050.
"Over the past 10 years, this project has contributed to the construction of the offshore wind power industry in France and has mobilized a significant number of jobs during construction and now in the operating phase," Bruno Bensasson, CEO of EDF Renewables said in a statement.
About a hundred people will continue to be employed at the site to operate and maintain the wind farm.
(Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Chris Reese)