No fans for French wind farm plans

November 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Plans to dot France with wind farms are facing fierce opposition from critics worried they will blight a landscape that has helped make the country the world’s top tourist destination.

France relies heavily on nuclear power but is working to shift to renewable energy sources and triple by 2020 its number of wind turbines, from the current 4000 that are spread across 1127 sites.

But opponents are urging the government to tread carefully so as not to damage France’s thousands of kilometre of stunningly beautiful countryside – which range from Europe’s longest strip of beaches to the peaks of the Alps.

Some critics have already won court cases outlawing turbines, and more legal challenges are on the way.

Erik Wallecan, the owner of the 18th century chateau de Flers in northern France, is one of them.

The 65-year-old successfully sued energy giant EDF-Gaz Suez to force it to remove 10 110-metre high turbines built around his estate in 2007.

“We were encircled,” said Wallecan, who was also awarded 37,500 euros ($A54,550) in damages.

The wind farm, the court ruled, had “completely altered the nature of a bucolic country landscape.”

During the trial, the energy firm argued that it had respected a guideline of turbines not being set up within 500 metres of human habitation – which critics say clearly doesn’t go far enough toward limiting their impact.

Critics say sites across the country are under threat, like the Sainte-Radegonde de Courant chapel on the Atlantic coast, parts of which date to the 13th century and which is to be surrounded by turbines.

Supporters of wind farms have said opponents are exaggerating the impact of turbines and are opposed to progress.

“We accept the presence of telephone emitters, electricity lines and pylons, water towers, grain silos,” the Federation of Wind Energy said.

“Some wind mills have now been classified as historic monuments… Why not one day wind turbines as well?”

Global heritage and cultural agency UNESCO has already taken a stand, demanding a 20-kilometre exclusion zone around Mont Saint Michel when plans were floated for wind farms to be set up within view of the 11th century Gothic abbey.

With the site’s status as a World Heritage Site at stake, local groups filed a legal challenge to the plan, which a court upheld in August.

UNESCO even sent, for the first time, an expert group to study the potential damage to the landscape that a wind farm would have had at Mont Saint Michel, which attracts about 2.5 million tourists a year.

“The site must remain in the same surroundings in which it was set up,” Petya Totcharova from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre told AFP.

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