French presidential election: wind of discord

Saint-Brieuc, Brittany. Wind turbines are “ugly and ruin our landscapes,” French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour said at a press briefing last month. Thus, the controversialist joins the many political and creative figures who oppose the construction of wind farms, whether on land or at sea.

A month before the first round of the presidential election, on April 10, the topic of wind energy burst onto the political landscape, despite the presence of the Ukrainian crisis in the mainstream media. This divides politicians, environmentalists and, to a lesser extent, public opinion.

I traveled to the north of Brittany, to Saint-Brieuc, where construction of an offshore wind farm is gaining momentum in this beautiful seaside resort in Côtes-d’Armor. When I visit, I eat at Le Père Mustache, one of the liveliest restaurants in town because of its terrace. The place is friendly and people express themselves spontaneously. Zulfukar Dalli and Camille Lucas run the restaurant. When it came time to pay the bill, I asked Camille what she thought of these wind turbines. She admits that she heard about it, but nothing more. She agrees with renewables because the other option is oil or nuclear power. “There is no nuclear power plant in Brittany,” she said. This is our pride. So, you have to choose a way to generate energy. “Wind energy seems to me the cleanest energy, but does this offshore project risk destroying aquatic life and polluting the environment? she wonders.

At this point, the customer gets up and walks over to us. Valentin, a sixty-year-old man in good shape, is a regular player. He joins the conversation and states that he opposes it in the name of respect for ecosystems and landscapes. “In the name of what ecology? Camille leaves him, teasing him. You must produce electricity. Valentin in response invites me to go to the site and see for myself.

Is the situation under threat?

I’m heading to the city’s port, Le Leger. It is a place of all kinds of activities: trade, fishing and yachting. On this rainy day in March, the boats of some collide with the ships of others. There are few people on the docks. Today is Monday and many restaurants and shops are closed. The decoration is still beautiful.

The wind farm will be built offshore and will be one of the largest in the world and one of the first in France. Michel, the owner of a sailboat moored in the port, is not worried. “Some fears for the landscape, for the aesthetics,” he says. The windmills will be far, far away from here. So we will always enjoy the great view that we have. »

Ailes Marines is responsible for the construction of the park, located more than 30 km from Saint-Brieuc. Work began in May last year and has just resumed after a break. They concern the ground part of the electrical connection and the drilling of the foundation to accommodate 62 wind turbines next year. The park’s production will be equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 835,000 residents.

The fact remains that the park will cover an area of ​​75 km².2 and that some of the nearest windmills, up to 16 km from the coast, will be visible. Around the park there are zones designed to protect biodiversity. Ailes Marines has received all government approvals to carry out the work and promises to continue its environmental monitoring efforts, including those related to noise, turbidity, birds and marine mammals, bats, fish resources, and water and sediment quality. The company even posted photo montages depicting views of the wind farm from various points along the coast to reassure residents.

Wind of opposition

This argument does not convince everyone, and the project has sowed a split even in the ranks of environmentalists. Sea Shepherd France, a major ocean protection NGO, is in a bitter fight with the site. Last week, on the occasion of the resumption of work in Saint-Brieuc, she called for the intervention of the European Commission. “We ask the Commission to address the shipyard’s violations of the rules applicable to the subject of pollutants at sea, to the planning of marine space, as well as the rules applicable to protected species and habitats,” spokeswoman Karine said. modest. Sea Shepherd calls for wind farm abandonment.

The Ecology of Europe – The Greens (EELV) party has a different interpretation of this initiative. “Renewable energy sources, one aspect of which is wind power, are the future,” said Ivan Hamon, the party’s spokesman in Saint-Brieuc. We do not support all wind farm projects, but the Saint-Brieuc project is in line with our sustainable vision. Jamon does not deny that the construction phase will cause disturbance to the aquatic fauna. But they will be temporary. “One of the arguments put forward is that dozens of species will be wiped out,” he said. This is not true, otherwise the ecology of Europe would not agree with this. »

Macron and the French for it

Eric Zemmour is not the only opponent of wind power, sea or land. National Rally leader Marine Le Pen promises to dismantle some of the parks. “President-elect, I will immediately dismantle the onshore and offshore wind farms and remove all subsidies for wind power”, she said. Even some Republican tenors, the classical right parties, are rather cool about wind turbines, which some accuse of deforming the landscape. They were joined by none other than Stefan Bern, a well-known TV presenter and heritage conservation advocate. They “seriously pollute nature and destroy the natural and architectural heritage of France,” he said. Figaro In the past year.

Apparently EELV head and presidential candidate Yannick Jadot doesn’t understand this obsession with the landscape. “There are 16,000 water towers in France, no one says anything. We have 100,000 high voltage towers. We have defaced the fields, removed the hedges, built up commercial areas. We have only 9,500 windmills in our country,” he said in an interview with the publication. Peace. With his energy program, their number will increase to 12,000 in 30 years.

Be that as it may, France is following the path of windmills. Emmanuel Macron has just announced an extensive energy plan combining nuclear and renewable energy that will be launched after his re-election. In this case, he has focused on offshore wind power, with about fifty marine parks to be built by mid-century to support the decarbonization of the economy. “This is crazy,” a Sea Shepherd spokeswoman said. However, the French follow. According to a survey by Harris Interactive published last October, 73% of them have a good understanding of wind energy. I’m willing to bet that the war in Ukraine and France’s dependence on Russia for some of its oil and gas supplies will shore up and possibly increase that support.

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