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France

Arts academy takes a detour

Industrial-scale wind turbines are too tall, too noisy and do not help reduce carbon emissions, while France's overly generous market support gives wind power producers unjustifiably high profits. These are just some of the contentious conclusions of a long awaited report on wind power by the French Academy of Beaux-Arts published at the end of last year. In response, Planète Eolienne, a federation of pro-wind associations, says the report presents "erroneous information and reiterates the campaign of disinformation orchestrated by the anti-wind movement."

The academy, founded in 1816, has a principal responsibility to ensure the conservation and "harmonious development" of French heritage. At the instigation of one of its members, architect Michel Folliasson, the academy invited 11 contributors to write about wind power, compiling the submissions into a 56-page document. On the pro-wind side, André Antolini of the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER), a lobby group, was joined by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a photographer, while Alain Bruguier of Vent de Colère and Didier Worth of the National Associations for the Protection of Heritage numbered among those more or less opposed to wind power.

The negative pronouncements of the academy on the economics of wind drew fire from the industry. "It is going beyond the competence of the Beaux-Arts to look at tariffs and regulations," says SER's Marion Lettry. From the academy, Hermine Vidot agrees that economics is not its "speciality," which is why it invited expert comment. "The aim of the academy was to participate in the debate by putting forward a different point of view," she says. "They wanted to take a position on wind."

The academy concludes that industrial-scale turbines are inconsistent with the French tradition of ensuring that architecture, however unusual, is not out of scale with the landscape. The "clash" between turbines and France's "remarkable sites and landscapes of quality is difficult to accept," it says. Antolini notes that the wind industry abides by planning regulations protecting historic monuments and protected sites, and that the advice of Batiments de France, which is also charged with safeguarding French heritage, is sought for all permit applications. Planète Eolienne dryly asks whether, according to the academy's criteria, it would have allowed the Eiffel Tower or the Millau viaduct to be built.

The academy's second conclusion is that wind power does not contribute to reducing carbon emissions because it is "variable and unpredictable." Wind, it claims, needs backing-up by fast response gas-fired plant, which increases emissions. Not so, says Planète Eolienne, citing a report by the French grid operator acknowledging that wind power helps with balancing supply and demand and reduces the need for conventional power plants.

Wind turbines are a nuisance because of noise and the risk of accidents, such as "blades breaking, ice-blocks flying off," the academy argues. Accidents are the exception, says Planète Eolienne.

The academy says the requirement that state utility EDF buy wind power at rates "greatly above cost price" means that turbines have become cash-cows and will eventually create a speculative bubble. The academy considers that the "only way to protect the French countryside" is to do away with the fixed premium purchase price system.

So far, there has been surprisingly little coverage of the report in the national media -- and the wind industry hopes it remains that way. Its main concern is that the report plays right into the hands of France's small but vociferous anti-wind lobby.

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