Why do so many people in France hate wind farms?

In France opposition against wind power is growing, rallying groups as varied as libertarians, Nimbys ("Not In My Back Yard") and mainstream politicians.

Why do so many people in France hate wind farms?
Dockers burn tires to protest labour law and ecologic reforms, on the sidelines of the inauguration of the first French offshore wind turbine (western France). Photos: AFP
France gets most of its energy from nuclear power, and resistance to wind power has been long standing. 
But in recent years, those campaigning against this clean source of energy have become much more diverse.
While these opponents all share wind farms as a common enemy, their grudges couldn't be further apart.
“From bourgeois people to militants of the far-left, anarchists, fishermen and rich landowners, opposition against wind power has become much more ecclectic,” wrote Le Figaro.
“What do these opponents have against wind power? There's the fact that it is ugly, its proximity to people's houses and historical monuments, the noise, the' blinding' lights and the risk of corruption and conflict of interest on the part of politicians involved,” the newspaper explained.
France is Europe's fourth biggest wind power producer, but nuclear power accounts for 75 per cent of the country's electricity needs.
Six years ago, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government pledged to reduced France's dependence on nuclear to 50 percent by 2025.
But that deadline keeps being pushed back because of an insufficient renewable capacity, and using more fossil fuels goes against France's climate change targets.
French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot stands on top of a wind turbine. Photo: AFP
Setting up wind farms in France requires patience.
Despite the fact that polls show the French are overall in favour of wind power – an industry that currently provides 10,000 jobs in France – it can take up to nine years to get a project up and running.
That's more than double the time it takes in Germany, Europe's leading wind power-producing nation, where it takes only four years.
Traditionally, France's long-running opposition to wind power in France stemmed mainly from local activists and residents – who feared wind turbines would ruin the landscape, decrease the value of their house or have damaging side effects on their health – and pro-nuclear groups, who didn't want competition from another source of power. 
Some environmentalists also worried about the impact of turbines on wildlife.
Nowadays, mainstream politicians have also jumped into the fore.
In a column published a few weeks ago in Le Figaro newspaper, 10 MPs from both the ruling party and the opposition asked the governmnent to halt all plans for onshore and some offshore wind farms near the coast. 
“France is currently going through a real crisis in terms of the setting up of new wind farms,” the politicians wrote.
“As representatives of the people, we have seen how angry people get when plans to build wind farms on land or by the sea are mooted. The social acceptance level is so low that appeals are lodged against 70 per cent of them”.
That figure is up from 50 percent five years ago.
Dealing with legal objections is a major hurdle for wind farm developers.
Members of an association of residents in Montagne-Fayel (northern France) protest against a wind farm project in their immediate living area. Photo: AFP
Over the past two years, activists fearing damage to the landscape filed legal objections which blocked wind farms near historic sites such as Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. An energy company was also forced to abandon a project near a World War One battlefield.
And then there are other, less obvious, reasons for protest.
In early June, explosives were found in a wind turbine in Eastern France days after another in the same wind farm was completely destroyed by a fire.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a libertarian organisation which said it was fighting against 'dominations', Ouest France reported.
Despite such fierce opposition, France still intends to go ahead with its plans to increase wind in its energy mix.
At the end of June, Emmanuel Macron announced that six offshore wind farms had been given the go ahead, and are set to be switched on from 2021.

Member comments

  1. Because they are a blot on the landscape, have little affect on the power grid because the production can’t be stored and causes power surges on the grid.

  2. I cannot agree more with Boggy’s comment. Besides the above, they kill thousands of migratory birds every year. Spain has been blighted by these monstrosities that have changed forever views of pristine landscapes. I hope this does not happen in France.

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Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

Sweden's government has proposed a new law which will remove local municipalities' power to block wind parks in the final stages of the planning process, as part of a four-point plan to speed up the expansion of wind power.

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

“We are doing this to meet the increased need for electricity which is going to come as a result of our green industrial revolution,” Strandhäll said at a press conference. 

“It is important to strengthen Sweden by rapidly breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, building out our energy production and restructuring our industry. The Swedish people should not be dependent on countries like Russia to drive their cars or warm their homes.”

“We are going to make sure that municipalities who say “yes” to wind power get increased benefits,” she added in a press statement. “In addition, we are going to increase the speed with which wind power is built far offshore, which can generally neither be seen or heard from land.” 

While municipalities will retain a veto over wind power projects on their territory under the proposed new law, they will have to take their decision earlier in the planning process to prevent wind power developers wasting time and effort obtaining approvals only for the local government to block projects at the final stags. 

“For the local area, it’s mostly about making sure that those who feel that new wind parks noticeably affect their living environment also feel that they see positive impacts on their surroundings as a result of their establishment,” Strandhäll said.  “That might be a new sports field, an improved community hall, or other measures that might make live easier and better in places where wind power is established.” 

According to a report from the Swedish Energy Agency, about half of the wind projects planned since 2014 have managed to get approval. But in recent years opposition has been growing, with the opposition Moderate, Swedish Democrats, and Christian Democrat parties increasingly opposing projects at a municipal level. 

Municipalities frequently block wind park projects right at the end of the planning process following grassroots local campaigns. 

The government a month ago sent a committee report, or remiss, to the Council on Legislation, asking them to develop a law which will limit municipal vetoes to the early stages of the planning process. 

At the same time, the government is launching two inquiries. 

The first will look into what incentives could be given to municipalities to encourage them to allow wind farms on their land, which will deliver its recommendations at the end of March next year. In March, Strandhäll said that municipalities which approve wind farm projects should be given economic incentives to encourage them to accept projects on their land. 

The second will look into how to give the government more power over the approvals process for wind projects under Sweden’s environmental code. This will deliver its recommendations at the end of June next year.