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Coming soon to a view near you: 600 of these

The French government’s plans for 600 turbines, constructed on five stunningly beautiful coastal sites between Saint Nazaire and Le Tréport, will, according to President Sarkozy, produce 3000 MW of power, the equivalent of about two nuclear power stations.

He wants an investment of €10 billion from firms wishing to build the parks. But experts doubt that they will ever deliver enough electricity to offset the visual damage done and opposition to similar parks is now growing all over the country, with more than 700 organisations opposing the proliferation of wind turbines.

In Dieppe and Le Tréport, a four-month public debate began last September to try to achieve some kind of compromise between the government and local fishermen, elected officers, and environmentalists. But now that the President has given the green light to the first wave of investors who want to tender, opposition has increased.

Even though the turbines will be 10km or so offshore, and will simply look like large matchsticks on the horizon, residents in Dieppe, Le Tréport and Fécamp, which is also affected, are furious. In the latest plans, it is estimated that 142 windmills of 5MW each, 14km from Le Tréport, would provide 900,000 people with electricity.

Locals, especially fishermen, are worried about the damage to their livelihood and to tourism and many residents are concerned that Mr Sarkozy seems intent on ruining the beautiful French coastline which inspired the likes Monet and Sisley.

Bloggers on the Le Figaro website have posted comments like “France is disfigured” and “This massacre of our beautiful landcape”; one asked, “Would Sarkozy like these monstrosities in front of the Eiffel Tower?”

Pat Ward-Lee, a retired EDF electrical power engineer, lives near Londinières, Seine-Maritime, a small town half way between Dieppe and Le Tréport. He is doubtful about the amount of electricity these parks would generate: “The figures just don’t add up,” he says. “For instance, the Le Tréport park would supply under one KW per person. If three people live in one house, they would, theoretically, get 3KW. If everyone switched on their supply at the same time, such as in the early evening, this would generate only enough power for lighting and maybe a little cooking.

“If the turbines are not running and disconnected from the grid, they won’t provide any power at all and the National Grid would take over. The promise of electricity for 900,000 consumers is spin, not fact!”

“I travel frequently through France and see many turbines that are disconnected. Some don’t move all year. I use the Channel crossings from Dieppe or Calais 10 or 12 times a year, and often there is simply not enough wind to drive them.

“There is no proof of the life of these éoliennes in terms of their construction and the reliability of their electrical control gear. The purpose of wind turbines is to ‘peak lop’, which means that they are available when nuclear and coal-fired stations are unable to cope with the power demand. They were never meant to be used as a ‘base load’.

“It has always been understood that both nuclear and coal-fired stations should work at their optimum, (ie. near full load conditions) for maximum efficiency. If you use turbines instead, you compromise the efficiency of the power stations. Why, then, ruin one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world? Daft!”

Olivier Bécquet is gérant (director) de la Co-operative de Pêcheur at Le Tréport, and represents the owners and crew of 50 fishing boats. The well-respected former capitaine de pêche is furious about the proposals: “Le Tréport is the principal fishing port of Haute-Normandie. We catch everything here, supplying a huge area. Our herrings, seafood and white fish are superb. The Le Tréport catch goes to the top restaurants and our famous fish market, which is the best in the area. The town is famous for its wonderful gastronomy. Our spectacular fruits de mer are renowned; people come from all over the world to eat here,” he says.

“Yet the politicians want to ruin our livelihood. They forget that our 50 boats represent families, not just fishing captains.

“The proposed 12 miles of turbines are 14km offshore, but they would be constructed exactly in the part of the ocean where we cast our nets and lines and would hamper our work and disturb the fish. What’s more, to create this ‘park’, it would be necessary to dig into the sand on the seabed, and upset the ecology of fish production in the area. The whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Olivier, 52, retired from fishing in 1998 and now runs Bateau Ecole Itag, a popular navigational school based in Le Tréport, as well as representing the fishermen.The battle against the wind farms is his top priority. It is made more complicated because Olivier and his mariner colleagues believe that political pressure has influenced the choice of location for these wind farms.

“Originally, these turbines were to be built further up the coastline, towards Calais,” he says. “But, of course, the mayor of Le Touquet, which is a rich resort, doesn’t want them spoiling his coastline,” he says. “There is also pressure from people who do not wish to have them on the land, either. It is is amazing how some landowners have suddenly decided that these turbines are a blot on the landscape. Wealthier people than us have more influence. So, they want to impose this on Le Tréport, where the less well off have to feed their families from the money they earn from the sea. It is appalling.”

However, Olivier is hopeful that it is not too late to fight the proposals: “We have initiatives in place, and are talking to EDF Energies. It is not a done deal yet. The more people who protest, the better.”

However, some people are less pessimistic. Uli Rohsaint is German, but has lived in Fécamp for 10 years, where she works at the Office de Tourism. She is cautiously upbeat about the impact of the wind farm proposals.

“I know that many people in Fécamp are against the plans, particularly fishermen,” she says. “However, the turbines will be out of sight, or at worst, just very small blobs on the horizon. There is also the important point that building the turbines will bring much-needed employment to the town, which has 20,000 inhabitants. From a tourism point of view,” she adds, “this proposal is not necessarily a negative, either. We can organise boat tours to go out and view them.”