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NIMBYs, Hostages, and the European Wind Wars

Nobody wants a wind turbine in his back yard.
Seriously, would you put a wind farm here? (View of Ferrieres-Poussarou looking toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Seriously, would you put a wind farm here? (View of Ferrieres-Poussarou looking toward the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo Credit: RussP

Of course, for self-appointed environmentalist zealots, this energy-market dynamic is a feature of the push for renewables, not a bug.  But renewables can’t actually supply all of Europe’s energy needs: not if Europeans expect to keep from freezing in the winter, or expect to keep lights on and things like hospitals, ethanol factories, and organic-produce stores running.  (Certainly not if they want to favor electric trains and electric cars over internal-combustion transportation.)

Forcing the unnatural on the energy market – forcing the power-grid baseline to the fluctuating level of what renewables can produce – is forcing a moment of choice on Europe: whether to drive out coal and nuclear altogether, or find a way to keep them in operation, knowing that the day will come when it’s too cold or dark to do without them.  Maybe gas will always be cheap and available.  But maybe it won’t.  Is it smart to rush away from coal and nuclear: to lose capacity by conscious choice, as if it’s easy and quick to get it back when you find out later that you need it?  Is it smart, in particular, when the public is so stubbornly resistant to the wind-turbine blight (and is also starting to notice the denuding of national-heritage lands for corn-ethanol production, among other downsides of renewable fuels)?

A turning tide?

Of course, America can ask herself the same questions.  But we haven’t yet started the breaking-wind process to quite the extent the Europeans have.  The latest news from Europa is that a chateau-owning couple in the Pas-de-Calais, on France’s North Sea coast, has won a judgment in court against a wind company that put up 360-foot, view-obstructing turbines near their property in 2007.  According to the couple:

“The first evening when we arrived in the chateau (from Anvers in Belgium) after their construction, it was a firework display; we wondered where these lights were coming from. We were not even aware that these (wind) projects existed,” Mrs Wallecan told Le Monde. Three huge turbines are visible when gazing across the park from the bay windows in the chateau’s grand salon. “Every day we have to suffer the visual and noise pollution. I can see the turbines from everywhere in the castle, from every room,” said Mr Wallecan.

A panel of French judges saw their point:

Judges in Montpellier ruled that the turbines’ location blighted the countryside, causing the “total disfigurement of a bucolic and rustic landscape”. Besides the turbines “spoiling the view”, the judges also cited the “groaning and whistling” and “unsightliness of white and red flashing lights”.

The judges ordered the wind company, GDF Suez, to remove the turbines and pay damages to the Wallecans.  (GDF Suez has appealed.)

This being France, there is of course some backstory, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it involves hostage-taking.  OK, technically, the event seems to have been more a matter of besieging city hall.  It didn’t make news across the pond, but has been a rallying incident for the French wind-resistance movement.

According to this report from 20 October 2013, last year, the citizens of the tiny hamlet of Ferrières-Poussarou “took hostage,” for a night and a day, their local city hall.  (This brief update gives the date as 10 July 2012.)   Their demand: an explanation for the proposed addition of 90 new wind turbines to their pastoral mountain redoubt in the Hérault, in the south of France near the Mediterranean border with Spain (author translation):

“The wind blows according to the interests [of profit],” complain Stéphane Quiquerez and Benjamin Veyrac, creators of the citizens’ group of Ferrières-Poussarou. …

The mayor’s error: having taken [gentle] lambs for sheep.  “Meekness is like a wooden beam, the more obvious it is, the more wary you should be,” goes a local saying.  So last year, as one man, the village [of Ferrières-Poussarou] took its city hall hostage, for a night and a day, “to demand explanations.” Intervention by law enforcement, a media uproar, close monitoring by the national police… It [all became] a devil’s chorus that enabled these madmen to wangle a meeting with the sub-prefect [a local official, one step above the mayor’s level], and to figure today in the debate.  Swelling like a flood, with the proliferation of wind farms, the local dispute has [become the defining] experience of a decade.  And [it has a defining] leader: Marcel Caron.  A former college president, this retiree has overturned four projects in the region with his group Hurlevent, affiliated with the [larger] collective Vent de colère [Wind of Anger], which battles all the way to the Conseil d’État [France’s Council of State].

It bears noting, just because it’s so gallically charming, that the French call a wind farm a “parc éolien” – literally, Aeolian park – which is one of those linguistic delights that English, for all its adaptability, can never hope to offer.

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