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Anti-Wind debate in France: an ecologist interview.

by Xavier in Paris Tue May 11th, 2010 at 06:02:22 AM EST

Recently, I was reading the newspaper Le Monde on line when my attention was attracted by this article. At the time, the chat was ongoing so I though of asking some questions to the interviewed, Yves Verilhac, who is a prominent figure of the anti-wind party in France. These questions were not selected by the newspaper crew who were filtering them, so I sent them directly to the guy afterwards, who was kind enough to answer. I think this exchange might be of interest so here it is below the fold...

Caution: g00gle translation ahead!


Question 1 Merit of Order effect:
The pro-wind say that this technique allows to inject electricity at low cost in a market without stock, where the spot prices are very sensitive to the arrival of a new supplier. This energy may help us overcome a dependence on foreign powers as caring that Niger (uranium), Saudi (oil) and Russia (gas).
The wind farm would provide strong savings whenever a peak demand coincides with a peak production.
Do you think we need to completely deprive the electricity production of wind, even if this mean paying more for each kWh? Is this a good way to reduce our dependence on countries moderately friendly to us?


Answer 1: This is partially true. First, the overall ecological balance of the wind industry is far from neutral (manufacturing, transport ...) and it's even worse for photovoltaics. Getting moral lessons from the Chinese is breathtaking. We can not say that wind is cheap electricity while it's the subsidy that does it and while the  costs are 4-5 times more expensive!
Talking about independence while we have no industrial tradition in the field, we import all equipment, there is virtually no job created is also exaggerated.

And if we have to just hope that a peak need takes place at the same time that a production peak, then we're screwed if I dare say. Besides it is in times of high heat and extreme cold that we get the most consummation, precisely the times when there is no wind or too much ...
30% productivity on average, and nothing more!
Why? Because this is not storable, it is still less profitable than face capacity etc etc...

It is the citizen's dependency we have to think about, with productions that are actually local.
The Wind power industry doesn't bring independence, not least because it requires fossil and nuclear energy to balance supply. etc. etc.

Question 2:
I read your response at time of 3:24 p.m [in the Le Monde article]., which suggests to me another question.
What impact should we expect if 10,000 turbines are located in France?
How would these impacts be different  from what may be observed in Spain or Denmark? Given the level of equipment in these two countries, Is not possible already to make an assessment of these impacts?


Answer 2:
10000 wind mills = wind mills visibility over much of the country, a trivialization of landscapes, a feeling of movement (loss of quietness), a nocturnal light unseen before (end of the starry skies of the Massif Central), the multiplication of EHV lines, 1000 tons of concrete per mast x 10,000 = 10 million tons (!) with two thirds being buried; which will never get removed, multiplied effects on avifauna (birds) and Chiroptera (bats) not yet estimated, etc. etc.

[NdA: trivialization of landscapes is a notion this person has developed elsewhere which means giving a price to different landscape views (as in a painting) and a cost to uniformity]

Question 3:
Economically, some territories have been facing thirty years of high human desertification (the Auvergne region dear to me, is one).
To what extent can we offer something to those who are tempted by the wind as a means of reviving a little their territory?
Would you say that acceptance of wind turbines is simply a matter of economic allocation of costs / benefits? (Cost visual distance, profit related to land only)


Answer 3:
I was director of a regional park, so rural development officer. The only two resources of our countryside territories are agriculture and tourism. The two are closely related. We are compromising their future in exchange for a business tax of uncertain future [NdA: Sarkozy has vowed to suppress this tax]. I know of a lot of villages that benefit from this tax and have died out nevertheless: villages without farmers, without social life, but with lit bowling, wave swimming pools, and secondary homes.
Who is taking care of the natural space? Nobody.
If the tax was the local development, people would know it. Once again the wind industry brings zero local jobs.

Display:
Jerome and I have already mentioned the strong opposition to wind farms in France; this is reinforced by sometimes virulent, always derisive slurs against windmills, "a blight on the landscape", that are casually slurred as "useless and ugly propellers", imposed against all logic and wisdom by those dirty tree-hugging hippies.

A more insidious propaganda that is getting some traction is also presenting wind (as well as solar) as essentially a scam: a subsidies capturing "sucker's trap" that would enrich a few and not bring any tangible benefit.

In this Le Monde article (actually an online chat with readers), Mr Vérilhac calls windmills as "territorial rape" and further states that "Plague is no justification for cholera".
Just so you know at which level we're starting the debate.

by Bernard on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 08:19:20 AM EST
Well, this was the article that I tried to participate in.

But do not dismiss the landscape argument! It is quite strong, and has been at the root of the emergence of the anti-wind associations. M.Verilhac has been in charge of a regional natural parc. He represents a trend of ecological fights (against modern industrial installations). He reinvidicates to have been fighting against nuclear power plants in the 70's, which were the french green party time and place of birth.

I think the debate was interesting because it appeared in a national importance left-of-center (ie: "socialist" for our american friends) newspaper, and because it's not the only one that appears in the last few weeks (approval vote time for green-law v2.0 in the french parliament)

by Xavier in Paris on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 08:40:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not dismissing the landscape argument nor its importance in the public debate in France. Merely questioning the necessity for such language as "rape, "plague" and the like: as much as we should allow anyone's righteous indignation, it doesn't bode well as a starting point for a perfectly legitimate debate.

It is indeed interesting that such a debate takes place in a national newspaper; as for characterizing Le Monde as left-of-center, be prepared for a few eyes rolling here on ET :-)

by Bernard on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 09:09:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, as for the vocabulary, as you said, this is France we're talking about... ;-)

Note for aliens: french people love using big words for small offences. I think that "rape", "plague" und so weiter... shall be considered as such.

Regarding the "Le Monde" newspaper, don't forget that it was home of some columns from some ET members. So it can't be that right wing, no?
Apart from that, I think some people here would indeed tend to your opinion, but I disagree: you should consider where the other newspaper are talking from.

by Xavier in Paris on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 09:33:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:51:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right: depends on where the center is :)
The WSJ once published Jerome; doesn't make it left wing though...
by Bernard on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 11:25:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and 2 times in the FT.

That makes me suspicious, probably :)

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 11:29:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're becoming increasingly Serious.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 04:22:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've always been Serious. I've got all the right social 'stamps' for it (the diploma, the job, the affluent Western white male thingy)

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 06:19:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All you need now is to say the Serious™ things.

And bingo! You'll be a Serious™ person.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 07:28:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought being French overrides all the other things....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 07:36:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not in the English language media. Actually, it does sort of "override": it definitely does put you squarely in the UnSeriousTM people category...
BWF: Blogging While French. In some states, the cops pull you over for that...
by Bernard on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 10:58:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An important point that was pointedly ignored in US wind development, and gradually entered into in the German market, is the inclusion of the local community in the revenue stream. The effects are marked.

Further, it should be noted that globally, once a wind park has been in operation a few  years, those directly affected become quite strong supporters.  They realize that most of the opposition points were pointless.

Finally, it is clear that many farms and ranches that were nearing insolvency have been saved by having a second revenue stream which -in no way affects current operations except during a short construction period (and even then barely at all.)

Logic has never been a strong suit of the "green" opposition, but an attempt at asking what other solutions besides wind might exist never seems to elicit answers of merit.

This being France, the nuclear issue is sure to arise. I will not criticize the evident competence of the French industry (though i reserve the right to say it's too early to tell), but will only add this was the week that it was announced that radioactivity of significance has begun to contaminate the New Jersey aquifer.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 09:14:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind build in France is a waste of perfectly good windmills - No, seriously, think this through. Selling wind power into the French grid displaces, in order firstly French hydro, and secondly French nuclear. There is no ecological or economic upside to this, since both hydro and wind have carbon intensities equivalent to or lower than wind, and lower costs of production, so it is completely nonsensical to build wind in this situation.
by Thomas on Thu May 13th, 2010 at 07:09:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You seem to contend that building anything other than nuclear is always nonsensical.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 13th, 2010 at 07:12:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Context matters. Adding wind to a grid that can back it up with hydro in a setting where the production displaces coal? huge win. Adding wind to a grid that has to back it up with gas in a context where the alternative is fission? Net loss. Wind, and for that matter, nuclear, are not magic, they are engineering solutions to the question of how to supply electricity with the minimum of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, and as such, the wisdom of any given project depends on the numbers. What is the average windspeed in the area? How good is the access to cooling water? What is the ability of the local grid to absorb swings in output like? Is it at all reasonable to stick a 1650 MWe unit into it? You got to run the numbers, or at least have some sense of what the numbers are, to make any kind of judgement calls about how good an idea any given project is. And in the french context, well, France is already committed to nuclear. Building wind turbines does not mean the nation gets to skip building reprocessing plants, waste repositories and so on, they have to do those things anyway for their existing nuclear installations, so on the margin, adding more fission to the electricity supply is cheap. (and that includes ecological costs. A waste repository storing the waste of 67 reactors is not significantly more of a hazard than one storing the waste from 52)
by Thomas on Thu May 13th, 2010 at 06:17:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Building wind turbines does not mean the nation gets to skip building reprocessing plants, waste repositories and so on, they have to do those things anyway for their existing nuclear installations, so on the margin, adding more fission to the electricity supply is cheap. (and that includes ecological costs. A waste repository storing the waste of 67 reactors is not significantly more of a hazard than one storing the waste from 52)

Is that a sunk-cost argument that once you start building nukes you should continue building them forevermore?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 13th, 2010 at 06:25:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it is a marginal cost argument. Most of the objections people raise against nuclear are simply nonsense when applied to states that are already using nuclear power, and/or are nuclear weapon states - For example, arguing that civil reactors are a proliferation risk is quite simply daft when considering countries that already possess thermo-nuclear warheads.
Further, embedded skill sets affect the cost of various solutions, so for the country on earth with the heaviest commitment to fission to be highly sceptical of alternative low-carbon power is to be expected - It is extremely unlikely that wind will be cheaper than the-cost-of-nuclear-in-france anytime soon, even if it becomes economic elsewhere
by Thomas on Fri May 14th, 2010 at 03:06:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For example, arguing that civil reactors are a proliferation risk is quite simply daft when considering countries that already possess thermo-nuclear warheads.

Not really, no.

It increases the number of technicians capable of operating a reactor. Those technicians are a proliferation risk. In a country like France that has a lot of nuclear already, the marginal proliferation risk from civilian nuclear reactors is probably small. But in a country that has nukes but very few civilian reactors, increasing the civilian technician cadre significantly is going to involve security risks.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri May 14th, 2010 at 11:27:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nonsensical... unless of course you wished to lower your life-cycle costs and lessen millennia-long risks.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu May 13th, 2010 at 09:00:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Never mind that RTE, in their most recent report, said that wind in France mostly displaced fossil fuel power.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri May 14th, 2010 at 02:47:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He repeats the same talking points ad nauseam. There's little point in dialogue with people like him. The question is - why do they get so much prominence in the public debate.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 09:25:30 AM EST
He also sent me a written text on wind industry. Inside there are some other arguments that may help to portray his character/party/association.

  • An ecology that protects Nature and not our way of life

  • Changes are bad, let's keep what we have, and not try to find something else through capitalism, unless we change first our society

  • A push for change in our way of life/society: lower consumation, lower impact on the environment

  • A very left-wing like distrust of all industrial/big company projects: profits are bad

  • A moral component: let's forbid bad actions (=polluting) but never ever just tax them (carbon tax = bad), because this would be immoral (and favor the polluters/rich/urban people)

  • An actual ecological way of life is small traditionnal farms, small craftmanship, small villages, traditionnal knowledge, strong human/social relationships.


The problem is that the critic of some of these points place oneself on the same side as some very disturbing (to me) interests: GMO plants and nuclear are ways of reducing the "traditionnal" pollution (agricultural and CO²).
by Xavier in Paris on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:05:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An ecology that protects Nature and not our way of life

Can anyone explain what that means? The fundamental problem with our attitude to our environment is the bizarre idea that humans and "Nature" can be separated.

An actual ecological way of life is small traditionnal farms, small craftmanship, small villages, traditionnal knowledge, strong human/social relationships.

We should really start a taxonomy of utopias. It would make dealing with this sort of nonsense much easier.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:11:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
These people want to roll back the Industrial Revolution, basically.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:18:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Back to the golden age that never existed.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:34:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but they ignore the world we live in, which is far, far from their ideal. In their view, something better than the status quo is not worth defending if it does not meet their lofty ideals - meaning that we get stuck with the status quo.

And they thus easily becomes de facto tools of the status quo.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:11:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's exactly my point actually.

I am growing increasingly wary for a tendency in the french left-wing parties/associations to just want to overthrow Society/Government/Big Capitalism before doing anything else and, doing so, giving the right a perfect track to get its "reforms" done.

by Xavier in Paris on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:23:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We just returned from Paris so we were there when the AN passed Grenelle 2.

Figaro and le Monde print had fairly straight up stories.

We were in France for about one week and there was an article or an advert about wind almost every day leading up to the vote.

There was an interesting juxtaposition of a full-page advert from the pro-wind forces and an article on the controversy in Figaro. It couldn't have been an accident.

Jerome, what's your take on the results: >500 m setbacks, >5 units?

I found it particularly encouraging that they set a target of 500 turbines per year--of course w/o an enforcement mechanism. While that's a low target, it is a target and is the opposite of a "moratorium".

Paul Gipe

by pgipe (pgipe(at)igc.org) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:10:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can anyone cite an englisch version of Grenelle 2 regs?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:16:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Afraid it's mostly in French: the Wiki page points to mostly outdated and incomplete official government web sites. The folks at Wind Watch seem to have the same difficulties.

The bill presented by the government (Jean-Louis Borloo) is here (in legalese French). Here is what happened to it after the lawmakers (and the lobbyists) got their hands on it. Article 34 is the one about renewable energies.

by Bernard on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 03:18:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know of any "official" version in english.

Here's the place to look for official law texts (french only).

by Xavier in Paris on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 05:16:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the préfets have gotten the unofficial message from high above that wind farms are no longer welcome, and they are making procedures more difficult every step of the way.

What's being done is to make it look like France is implementing the EU initiatives without actually doing anything in practice. In other words, standard Sarkozy practice.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:48:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's important to stress that opposition to wind power is by no means dominated by ecologists. On the contrary, you'd be hard pressed to find an organisation of ecologists in France that opposes wind power, or more than a handful of politically active ecolos with such a position.

In my experience, the typical anti-winder is motivated by a NIMBY ideology, in which the entire French landscape is their back yard. Technology, industry and wealth creation in general should be delegated to technocrats and tucked away out of sight in places we don't have to look at.

And then there are the technocrats themselves : the EDF, AREVA, Suez etc. who, by the magic of privatization, have become the new oligarchs. I am increasingly convinced that they have instrumentalized the anti-wind movement, because they don't want the downward pressure on electricity prices that wind power would bring to France.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 10:57:23 AM EST
In NY State, even though the wind industry is dead or at least in severe hibernation due to low generation prices (< 3.2 c/kw-hr from old coal burners and old nukes combined with a 5% decline in electricity consumption in WNY, 4.8 c/kw-hr statewide), the "Anti's" are on the march. Downstate the temporary cheap price for natural gas depresses prices below the point where wind turbine economics are viable - as does the existing 1270 MW of operating wind turbines- but the campaigns against the "scouge" of "Industrial" wind turbines persists. Probably teabagger related, too, for more yuck factor.

Thus, the electricity market partly organized/pushed by that arch-fiend and now dead organized crime figure, Ken Lay of Enron (Kenny-Boy) is doing its new job - making profits for paid off old (but recently "privatized and/or deregulated") units when high marginal/peak prices raise prices for that hour. Many of these old plants were sold off via "orders" for deregulation - sort of similar to what happened in Russia. Two coal burners I know of (1200 MW capacity at the time) were bought for $240 million, and when the crazy prices during the summer of 2005 happened (Katrina, Rita, Wilma), that investment was paid off in less than 100 days. Not bad. Dang, almost like bankster grade profits - though it did take 100 days to pay off $240 million.

So, now prices are depressed, but maybe not for forever. And there is a well paid for effort (oil, natural gas, nukes, coal type money, or just obnoxious billionaire type money) setting up astroturf entities all over rural NY and now Michigan, using these very terms ("rape" of the Great Lakes, "Scarring" the horizon, "defiling" the ridgeline, "pillage" the rural lands, etc). And I doubt these people read any language other than "'Murcan", or read much else but the trash divvied out by teabaggers and what their corporate masters emanate. Of course, one of their best arguments is that "Foreign" corporations, or at least "outsiders" will own the wind resource derived electricity, and leave them with essentially zip. Well, due to the "no Feed-In Law" and the way that the PTC and MACRS incentives are set up, essentially only the rich can profit by wind energy investments. But, the "anti-turbinites" take that glimmer of truth and run with it (along with lots of deep pocket money). Anyway, it's interesting that it also is happening in France - a contagion from England, no doubt.

See http://wagengineering.blogspot.com/2010/03/anti-tubinite-lies-parade-of-new.html and http://wagengineering.blogspot.com/2010/03/anti-turbinite-lies-part-2-more-from.html for examples of this.

Anyway, the anti-turbine folks seem to behave like "modern Zombies" - debate does seem to be pointless, nor does their seem to be any way to deter them. But, the general public is the real target of these zombies..... and getting access to the public media seems to be no problem when their money backers seem to be able to throw so much money around. So how do we get access to the media, now that there is (maybe really never was) no Fairness Doctrine of any sort to even the playing field a touch?

FWIW, that old Danish standard of "your own pigs don't stink" may be a solution. When more people find out they, or their neighbors or their community can make a living/get jobs/bring in tax money, etc from the wind industry, a lot of this "anti" movement will go up in smoke. But the problem is that in places like NY State, all the talk of Green Jobs combined with a distinct absence of said Green Jobs has left the public quite soured on the Wind Industry. All hat and no cattle, so far, at least around these parts, and citing jobs created elsewhere does not help matters much. To date, those Green Jobs are largely figments of wishful thinkers and (desperate for some job creation) politician's imaginations.

Bummer.

Man, do we need a Feed-In Law here. By and large, there does not seem to be nearly as much of a problem across the creek (Niagara and St Lawrence Rivers) or ponds (Lake Erie, Lake Ontario) in Ontario where they have a brand new Feed-In Law, and where the focus is on job creation. Though I'm sure there is bound to be some bitching and moaning going down there, too.

Nb41

by nb41 on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 01:18:46 PM EST
It is worth considering whether endless population growth should be sustained by increasingly intrusive technologies.

Another approach to the "energy crisis" would be a significant reduction in global population. This is a taboo point for discussion, though.

by asdf on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 09:07:01 PM EST
... a complementary part of an integrated approach.

If 1 US Resident has the impact of 5 Chinese residents and 8 Indian residents, then on the I=PAT ... Impact = Population * Affluence * Technology ... the place to hit High Income nation I is at Technology, reducing footprint per unit of consumption per person, but where the "AT" side is already very low on average, the only way to pursue a reduction in "I" is on the Population side of the equation.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue May 11th, 2010 at 11:07:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Estimate, with a global one-child-per-woman policy, the time required for global population to peak, and the peak level.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 04:21:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A long time, because the old goats need to die off.

However: Estimate the time needed for global population to peak in the presence of various pandemics, famines, and energy wars...

by asdf on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 04:39:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
About six months from the first nuclear impact is the figure I seem to remember seeing somewhere.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 04:46:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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