Opposition to Wind Energy in France Amidst Support for Nuclear Power

news 12-Jun-2023 Europe

France currently only generates one fifth of its energy from renewable sources. Plans to build large wind farms offshore are underway, but while citizens support nuclear power, there is resistance to wind energy.

Concerns for Fishing Industry

A cable lifts large green plastic boxes full of scallops from the belly of a ship in the port of Le Tréport in Normandy. Fisherman Ludovic spent almost all night on the English Channel with his trawl net. He is not satisfied with today's catch, as the scallop season is drawing to a close. "The catch could be better", he says reluctantly.

However, today's catch is not Ludovic's biggest worry. The fishermen of Le Tréport are afraid for their future. "Maybe we will have to give up fishing", says Ludovic.

Ludovic's ship docked in front of the building of the fishing cooperative in Le Tréport. A large sign on the wall reads: "No Wind Energy Dictatorship." What is worrying to the fishermen is that a wind farm is planned to be built 15 kilometers off the coast of Le Tréport.

Resistance Against Wind Mills

Olivier Becquet gestures frantically on the harbor dock while on the phone. He is the head of the fishing cooperative, and he is constantly in motion. Becquet has been fighting wind mills for fifteen years.

"For us, it is simply terrible what is going to happen here," he says. "Politicians just do not understand what it means to build things in the sea. They think they can just do anything without realizing the wealth that lies beneath the surface and how important the fishing industry is economically."

In Le Tréport, many of its 5,000 inhabitants think like him. Signs against wind turbines are hanging all over the idyllic small town with the crowded, dark brick houses in front of the high chalk cliffs.

Concerns for Fishing and Tourism

"We are used to wind power in the region," says restaurant owner, Charlotte. Wind turbines can be seen all around Le Tréport's fields. However, on the sea, it is different: "We think about tourism here. We live 80 percent on fishing and tourism. This would affect all the shops here."

Charlotte is worried that tourists will stop coming if the turbines change the vast turquoise sea view. With the colorful fishermen’s boats that come and go through the picturesque harbor entrance, the view is the hallmark of Le Tréport.

Less than 20% from Renewable Energy

Renewable sources only account for 19.3% of energy production in France. Consequently, France falls behind the targets set by the European Union.

President Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to build 50 offshore wind farms along the coast of France over the next several years. The wind farm in Le Treport is one of them.

Fishery Cooperative Chief Criticizes Planned Offshore Wind Farm

Olivier Becquet, head of the fishery cooperative, takes a small boat out to sea, close to the area where the offshore wind farm is planned. According to the plan, 62 wind turbines will soon be rotating here, generating electricity for 850,000 people.

For Becquet, this is completely the wrong place: "The water is relatively shallow, more light enters, the water is less cold, so there is plenty of food. It's the perfect mix, making it the most fish-rich area in the entire English Channel." Environmental organizations criticize the location.

The French government gave this area in the English Channel the green light for the construction of an offshore wind farm over a decade ago due to the stable subsoil and shallow waters, making it an ideal place for construction.

Environmental groups criticize that the location was chosen too close to the coast, and there was too little exchange with local actors. Becquet and his colleagues feel overlooked by the French state. The fishermen's proposals for an alternative location were not taken into account.

Becquet and his colleagues fear that the fish will disappear from this part of the sea in the long term, even though the wind farm operator claims the opposite. There are still few conclusive studies on the subject, and the fronts are hardened.

Two New Reactors

Becquet’s boat heads back towards the port, passing the Penly nuclear power plant in sight of the future wind farm. "It's all crazy. We have an atomic power station here that produces exactly the amount of electricity needed every day," he says. Two new reactors are planned to be built here, in addition to the two existing ones.

At Le Tréport, two pillars of the future French energy policy will be just a few kilometers away from each other - nuclear and wind power. At least six new reactors are planned to be built across the country. According to surveys, two-thirds of the French are in favor.

Little Resistance to Nuclear Power

As great as the resistance against the offshore wind farm is, there is little opposition to the expansion of the nuclear power plant. Currently, the two existing reactors at Penly are out of operation: maintenance work is being carried out following corrosion and a major crack. Few people here are worried.

According to the mayor of Le Tréport, Laurent Jacques, there is great trust. People are used to nuclear power and the risk that comes with it. "I know virtually no people here who say they are against nuclear power. And I am convinced that the expansion is a good project for the region," he says. Many people in the region are already benefiting economically from the nuclear power plant.

The mayor hopes that the construction of the new reactors will bring more jobs to the region: "Thousands of people will work there. Of course, they can't all come from here. They have to be trained first. But the idea is that 50 percent come from the region."

With the offshore wind farm, it's different: "The economic consequences for a municipality like ours are catastrophic. It's about hundreds of jobs. We get no compensation." An originally planned maintenance station in Le Tréport will now be built in the neighboring town.

Fight Continues

Next year, construction work on the offshore wind farm is scheduled to begin. Olivier Becquet of the fishery cooperative will not be satisfied with the fact that fishermen will no longer be able to access this area once construction starts, despite receiving compensation: "People here want to work, earn a salary at the end of the month, and feed their families. We don't want to become unemployed."

He and other fishermen have filed a petition with the European Parliament. Giving up is not an option for him.


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