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France

The second battle of Agincourt -- English protest French project

For two years a battle has been raging at Agincourt, the historic battlefield where English and Welsh archers defeated French forces in 1415. This time, however, the fight is not about who should occupy the throne of France, but a plan to erect four wind turbines within sight of the field where over 5000 soldiers died.

The 8 MW project has been developed by EDF Energies Nouvelles, the renewables arm of state utility Electricité de France (EDF), on land 1.5 kilometres from the battlefield. According to Agincourt mayor Bernard Boulet, the local authorities were "not opposed" to the idea, nor were the vast majority of the local population, who stood to benefit from their share of the taxes paid by wind plant operators in France.

But some residents were strongly opposed, in particular two families living close to the proposed site; the nearest turbine would be 700 metres from one of their homes. They appealed to their British friends for support and soon a tide of opposition began to build on the English side of the Channel (of the 35,000 annual visitors to Agincourt, some 80% are British).

Feelings were especially strong in Monmouth, Wales, where many archers hailed from. "This is a piece of hallowed ground, where much blood was spilt," says Donald Baggs, one of those co-ordinating the protests. He even threatened to march on Agincourt at the head of 5000 modern-day "archers."

All the protestors wanted was for the wind turbines to be sited in a less sensitive area. "In general, we applaud the use of wind turbines but the idea of developing them on and close to the historic site of Agincourt we believe to be totally inappropriate," Baggs says. The wind plant would "destroy the aura of the site," which should be preserved for future generations.

The British interference got a frosty reception from many locals, however, who grumbled that the issue has nothing to do with people from outside.

In December, EDF Energies Nouvelles announced its decision to withdraw. The reasons, it says, were purely technical. Following the collapse of a turbine at Le Portel Plage in northern France in 2004 (Windpower Monthly, May 2004), the security zone around turbines was increased to twice the height of the machine. Since two of the Agincourt units were sited within or on the edge of this distance from a high-voltage transmission line, the project would be reduced to just 4 MW, which brought into question its viability. The company strategy is to concentrate on the most profitable projects, says Marilys Dubernet of EDF Energies Nouvelles.

The protestors, however, claim their action won the day. According to one of the leading French campaigners, Thierry Yverneau, a representative of EDF Energies Nouvelles advised him the reasons for the withdrawal were "the close proximity of the turbines to a historic site and to preserve the good relations with the English people and the associations who were against the project."

Ironically, a number of turbines will soon be visible from the battlefield in any case. These include some of the 70 machines to be installed around Fruges by German developer Ostwind (Windpower Monthly, January 2006), while EDF Energies Nouvelles has applied for siting permission for another five turbines at nearby Auchy-les-Hesdin -- with no sign so far of archers massing on the horizon.

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