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Macron’s push to impose wind power on France whips up a gale of protest

In a week when the president was slapped by an unemployed 28-year-old right-winger during a walkabout, such apparent disregard of local sensibilities risks fuelling discontent among many over the direction France has taken under Macron, complicating his chances of re-election next spring. “It is scandalous,” Lagrenaudie told me as we sat in the village’s impressive hôtel de ville. “The project has been massively rejected locally, but the prefect still gives it the go-ahead. What is the point of having mayors and all these other people elected?

A bid to install hundreds of turbines in areas like the Dordogne is seen as yet another misstep by an out-of-touch president

On a sweltering day in the Dordogne last week, Thierry Bonne, a retired French navy admiral turned Airbnb host, surveyed the verdant countryside stretching out from his 17th-century chateau and contemplated one of the toughest battles of his career.

There was only the faintest of winds, as is the case most days here on the edge of the Forêt de la Double. But the area has nevertheless been deemed breezy enough to power five wind turbines, more than 600ft (180m) high, the two closest of which will be within a few hundred metres of his Manoir de Puymangou.

“Why put these things here in a forest, where there isn’t even much wind?” demanded Bonne, who is dismayed by the project’s impact not just on the scenery but also on his holiday-letting business. “They’re completely unsuited to the Périgord area, which is known for the beauty of its landscapes. And once they start putting the first ones in, others will follow.”

The admiral and his wife, Bénédicte, had a foretaste of what was to come a few years ago, when a temporary measuring tower was erected on the proposed site.... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A bid to install hundreds of turbines in areas like the Dordogne is seen as yet another misstep by an out-of-touch president

On a sweltering day in the Dordogne last week, Thierry Bonne, a retired French navy admiral turned Airbnb host, surveyed the verdant countryside stretching out from his 17th-century chateau and contemplated one of the toughest battles of his career.

There was only the faintest of winds, as is the case most days here on the edge of the Forêt de la Double. But the area has nevertheless been deemed breezy enough to power five wind turbines, more than 600ft (180m) high, the two closest of which will be within a few hundred metres of his Manoir de Puymangou.

“Why put these things here in a forest, where there isn’t even much wind?” demanded Bonne, who is dismayed by the project’s impact not just on the scenery but also on his holiday-letting business. “They’re completely unsuited to the Périgord area, which is known for the beauty of its landscapes. And once they start putting the first ones in, others will follow.”

The admiral and his wife, Bénédicte, had a foretaste of what was to come a few years ago, when a temporary measuring tower was erected on the proposed site. Though a mere 90m tall, it was “aggressive, with a red light flashing all night”. They are also alarmed by the noise that will be made by the turbines’ blades.

Bonne has set up a group, Asso3D, to organise resistance to the proposed Grands Clos wind farm, whose five turbines will be the first of 140 planned for the Dordogne. The area is especially popular with British visitors, some of whom settled here, among them Nick Tynan, originally from Andover, who with his wife Anne owns a gîte a few hundred yards away. He calls the wind farm “the wrong thing in the wrong place”.

In a recent poll of 700 local residents, all but three voted against the project, while various resolutions opposed to it have been passed by councils across the département. About 54 local mayors signed an open letter published in Le Journal de Dimanche newspaper last week organised by Yannick Lagrenaudie, mayor of Saint-Aulaye-Puymangou, a picturesque village of 1,500 people that will be one of the most directly affected.

One of the few local supporters is Jean-Jacques Gendreau, the mayor of nearby Parcoul-Chenaud — though his enthusiasm is understandable, perhaps, because one of the turbines will be erected on a field belonging to him. Gendreau, who made the first approach to Abo Wind, the company behind the project, has been under investigation since 2019 over a potential conflict of interest. He denies any wrongdoing.

Despite such overwhelming opposition, the wind park, first mooted in the early 2010s, was recently given the go-ahead by the local prefect, Frédéric Perissat, who takes his orders from the government in faraway Paris.

For Lagrenaudie, a former teacher who describes himself as left of centre, the decision is the latest manifestation of an over-mighty and centralised French state, which has become even mightier and more controlling under Emmanuel Macron.

In a week when the president was slapped by an unemployed 28-year-old right-winger during a walkabout, such apparent disregard of local sensibilities risks fuelling discontent among many over the direction France has taken under Macron, complicating his chances of re-election next spring.

“It is scandalous,” Lagrenaudie told me as we sat in the village’s impressive hôtel de ville. “The project has been massively rejected locally, but the prefect still gives it the go-ahead. What is the point of having mayors and all these other people elected?

“And then you have this week’s slap. It’s not directly linked, of course, but there is a sense that people in France feel completely lost because they don’t think they are being listened to.”

France has long been dependent on nuclear energy, which supplies 70 per cent of its electricity — more than any other country in the world — and has been far slower than Britain and many other European countries to embrace wind power.

Macron is determined to expand the latter considerably, however, to meet France’s commitments on climate change. The government’s multiannual energy programme, approved in April, aims to raise the number of turbines from the existing 8,000 to 14,500 by 2028.

Yet the plan is unpopular with many who will have to live in the shadow of the steel behemoths, which not only dominate the landscape but also make noise and disrupt the pattern of migratory birds; a potential blow to Dordogne’s hunters, who target the thousands of wood pigeons that fly through each autumn. Groups similar to Bonne’s are springing up across France and beginning to work together.

In recent weeks the issue has also been making waves nationally, thanks to Stéphane Bern, a television presenter best known for his feel-good programmes about French heritage. In a recent editorial in the newspaper Le Figaro, he urged traditionalists and environmentalists to wage a “common fight against the real ecological calamity represented by the abusive and anarchic installation of wind turbines on land or at sea”.

Bern was promptly denounced by Barbara Pompili, the environment minister, who claimed some of his criticisms were baseless and akin to “claiming the world is flat”.

But the much-loved presenter’s comments are music to the ears of Macron’s opponents on the right, keen to portray the president’s enthusiasm for wind power as further proof of his indifference to the views of voters, especially in La France profonde. The issue is high on the agenda not just in the Dordogne but also in several other contests in regional and departmental elections being held across the country next Sunday.

Marine Le Pen, the hard-right leader and Macron’s main challenger for the presidency next spring, has vowed, if elected, to introduce a moratorium on new turbines, which her party, the National Rally, regards as “an industrial scam” because of the substantial state subsidies they require.

“General de Gaulle made the choice of nuclear power and it was a choice of great foresight,” Le Pen said in a recent television interview, warning France against going the way of Germany, which, while phasing out nuclear power in favour of renewals, finds itself having to burn polluting coal to fill in shortfalls.

The issue has also been seized upon by another presidential hopeful, Xavier Bertrand, the moderate-right leader of the northern Hauts-de-France region. He recently denounced turbines as a “scandal ... that disfigure the landscape and the lives of those who live near them”.

Although ranking far behind Covid, the economy and law and order in voters’ preoccupations, the issue could prove a tricky one for Macron: the yellow vest protests that cast a shadow over his presidency for more than a year from late 2018 were triggered by ecological policy — a proposed hike in the price of diesel.

The rise was resisted most strongly by country dwellers, many of whom are on low incomes and dependent on their cars, while proving a matter of indifference to those in cities, who enjoy better public transport and are more likely to support “green” policies.

The growing row over turbines risks a repetition of this urban-rural rift, though back in Saint-Aulaye-Puymangou the opponents of the project insist they are just as concerned about the environment as any electric scooter-riding townie.

Lagrenaudie says his village is proud of its modest hydroelectric plant and recently submitted a proposal to install solar panels on its land, only for its proposal to be rejected by the National Council for the Protection of Nature because of its impact on local flora.

“When there was a public inquiry on the panels no one was opposed. With the turbines it was 1,500,” he said. “We are really in favour of renewable energy and trying to do all we can on a local level. But the wind farm is completely inappropriate for this area.”


Source: https://epaper.thetimes.co....

JUN 13 2021
https://www.windaction.org/posts/52490-macron-s-push-to-impose-wind-power-on-france-whips-up-a-gale-of-protest
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