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France to double pace of offshore wind projects as costs fall - PM

Bate Felix

* Government responds to industry criticism over slow pace

* 600 MW Dunkirk project awaits regulator recommendations

* PM confirms that coal plants will close by 2022

PARIS, June 12 (Reuters) - France will double its target for developing offshore wind generation to 1 gigawatt (GW) per year from around 500 megawatts previously as costs are falling, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Wednesday.

France aims to rapidly boost power generation from renewable wind, solar and other green sources as it seeks to curb its dependence on nuclear power and phase out coal-fired generation to reduce its carbon emissions.

In its long-term energy plan presented last year, the government had said it would boost France's offshore wind capacity from zero today to 2.4 GW in 2023 and about 5 GW in 2028, at a rhythm of around 500 MW a year.

This had been criticised by the energy industry which said France had the capacity to do more and the low target could hurt investments.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers on Wednesday that a tender for France's 600 MW Dunkirk offshore wind project has attracted interests from several international energy majors and is showing that costs are falling even faster when projects are well mounted.

"We will be able to increase the pace of future tenders to one gigawatt per year," Philippe said.

French energy market regulator CRE is studying the tenders for the Dunkirk offshore project and will make recommendations to the government, which will announce the final decision based on the regulator's advice.

Philippe reiterated that France will close the Fessenheim nuclear power plant, France's oldest, before end 2020 as it moves to reduce the share of atomic power in its electricity mix to 50% by 2035 from over 75% currently.

He confirmed that France's remaining coal-fired power plants in Gardanne, Saint Avold, Cordemais and Le Havre will be closed by 2022 as previously announced and that the government would honour its commitments to the plants' workers.

Laying out policy measures in response to "yellow vests" protests over high energy prices, Philippe said France will negotiate with the European Commission on new regulation on electricity prices.

"We will negotiate with the Commission..., so that French consumers can benefit more from the stability and competitiveness that our past investments gives us," he said.

(Reporting by Bate Felix Editing by Geert De Clercq)