The government wants to double the number of wind turbines in France in the next five years, but the challenge is intensifying and brings together opponents of all kinds.
After McDonald's and GMO fields, will the next target of ecologists or environmental activists be wind? In June, a criminal fire destroyed a wind turbine and damaged another in Marsanne, in the Drôme. The attack was claimed by a libertarian group stating "tackle the dominations". From the bourgeois to the political extremists and anarchists, to the fisherman and the squire, the opposition to wind power is "more and more varied," says Fabien Bouglé, spokesperson for the opposition group Touche pas à nos îles! which opposes a wind farm project off the island of Noirmoutier, Vendée.
Admittedly, this opposition historically started with right-wing pro-nuclear groups, "but it's changing," says an elected representative in Versailles, who stated he attended a lecture on the subject in Paris where the opposition was referred to as "a great popular anti-wind revolt." The protest, while up to now has been confined to anti-wind citizens and associations, is now expanding to shared voices within the political arena.
In late June, Xavier Bertrand, the former Minister of Labor and current President of the Hauts-de-France launched a wind oversight effort to better control the expansion of wind turbines in his region, which he says "completely disfigure landscapes." Ten MPs, from the majority and opposition parties, signed on to the "Stop the new wind turbines!" platform as reported in our June 20 edition.
France is now the fourth largest country in Europe behind Germany, Spain and Great Britain for wind capacity. France's share of wind power represents less than 5% of its consumption but, by 2023, onshore wind turbines are expected to double from 7,300 turbines to around 15,000. "This would be the second largest wind field in Europe and for the second coastline. The potential is considerable ", according to Pauline Le Bertre, General Delegate of France Wind Energy (FEE).
However, 70% of the building permits are under challenge before the administrative courts, up from 50% five years ago
If Germany has long understood "the imperative need to have an energy transition, in France, many associations play on the anxieties of people, propagating negative ideas". According to Ms. Le Bertre, the degree of opposition to wind power is unique in Europe, linked to our history with nuclear power.
In fact, despite the very strong French political discourse on the subject, and polls favorable to wind power among the French, the installation of wind turbines is provoking more and more opposition. The legal challenges can delay project construction for nine years. This is compared to just four years in Germany.
To speed up the process, the government removed the first level of review, the administrative court, and applications directly to the administrative court of appeal. A draft decree is currently in consultation with the Council of State. This is already practiced for offshore wind projects, movie multiplexes and supermarkets. For for Fabien Bouglé, this is an "undemocratic" process which in recent months has mobilized and hardened the anti-wind front even more.
Opposition associations are also angry about the decree issued on July 11 that allows for the repowering of existing wind facilities without requiring new impact studies.
What do opponents to wind power object to? Its ugliness, its proximity to homes and historic monuments, noise, its "blinding" lights, facilities tainted with multiple illegal conflicts of interest on the part of elected officials. The arguments are multiple and hard to ignore.
Wind turbines will not be installed in the viewshed of the Mont-Saint-Michel landscape, nor on the Pont du Gard side. According to Ms. Le Bertre, France's "installation restrictions" are the toughest in Europe. We multiply the impact studies related to biodiversity, heritage, and residential homes. "To hear, a wind turbine located 500 meters from a dwelling, the regulatory minimum distance, the noise cannot be louder than a refrigerator ". She boasts that wind power is competitive at 64 euros per megawatt compared to 110 euros for nuclear generation. Conversely, Karine Poujol, head of the association Gardez caps, the 64 wind turbines planned in the bay of Saint-Brieucprovoque will be deadly for underwater biodiversity, even though the area is protected Natura 2000. The group anticipates a noise "similar to that of an airplane take-off".
Loïk Le Floch-Prigent, former CEO of Elf Aquitaine, defends scallops of Cape Fréhel, which could be "very affected" by these installations. The former industrialist defends his pro-nuclear stance and has "always defended the fact that it was necessary to diversify," he told Figaro. He questions the policy which "penalizes our competitiveness by increasing our imports of equipment: 95% of wind energy investments come from Germany, Denmark, India or China, while two thirds of the operators come from elsewhere". This spring, the Court of Auditors affirmed that "the French economy has not benefited from the development of renewable energies". This is in spite of the considerable resources, which in 2016 amounted to 5.3 billion euros. The forecast for public expenditure in 2023 is expected to reach 7.5 billion euros.
Translation from French to English assisted using Google Translate