President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of committing a “grave attack on the collective memory” of Second World War allies after he approved a giant wind farm complex off the D-Day coast.
Critics, including British veterans’ families, have slammed the decision to proceed with erecting more than 100 turbines more than 525ft high just seven miles off the Normandy landing beaches as a “sacrilegious” act.
The towering turbines risk desecrating the view from the Calvados coast, which has remained relatively untouched since thousands of Allied troops launched their assault from the sea on June 6, 1944.
The windmills’ flashing lights would ruin poignant night remembrance on Juno and Omaha beaches by giving off a “disco” effect, it was claimed.
Last week, Mr Sarkozy opened the bidding process for a massive €20 billion (£17.5 billion) project to erect 1,200 wind farms off the French Atlantic seaboard by 2020.
With nuclear power the dominant energy source, France currently has no sea-based turbines and is seeking to catch up with countries such as Britain.
Among the five projects in the first batch of tenders is one off Courseulles-sur-Mer, nearest to Juno Beach, one of the landing sectors on which 2,500 Allied soldiers died on D-Day. Juno was the target of 3rd Canadian Infantry Division supported by Royal Marine Commandos.
With construction starting in 2015, the wind farms will be very close to the site of the so-called “Mulberry Harbour” built by Royal Engineers at the seaside town of Arromanches.
Gérard Lecornu, president of the Port Winston Churchill Association of Arromanches.
“They will be visible from all the Normandy landing beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold Juno and Sword,” he said.
“Three million tourists come from the world over to the landing beaches. The first thing they do is look at the line of horizon from where the landings came,” he said. “D-Day is in our collective memory. To touch this is a very grave attack on that memory.”
More than 4,000 people from 50 countries have signed his online petition against the plan.
Jean-Louis Butré, head of the Federation Environnement Durable, an ecology group, said the wind farms would also scupper a five-year old drive to have the D-Day landing beaches recognized as a Unesco world heritage site.
The government claims the project, along with the other sites – two off the north Norman coast and two off the Breton coast – will generate as much electricity as two nuclear power stations, create at least 10,000 jobs and boost the local economy. The turbines will be so far away that they will be no bigger than “matchsticks” to the naked eye from the beaches, it insists.
Most local politicians have welcomed the plan.
“The transition to the 21st century by making the most of huge unexploited wind power off our coasts is not an insult to yesterday’s warriors,” said Mickaël Marie, president of the Europe Ecologie group at the lower Normandy regional council.
“Better to have a big project in the sea whose visual impact from the coast will be almost nil for places of remembrance than lots of little wind farm projects on land,” said Thierry Masson, general director in charge of environmental at the regional council.
Mr Butré said that his group would “intensify” its opposition.
“I even had one RAF pilot say that he was prepared to bomb the windmills if they went ahead with the plan. I think he was joking,” he said.