Inquiry into French mega-project piles on cost

FRANCE: For the first time a wind power project is to be the subject of a public debate in France.

Such debates are designed to ensure the public is kept fully informed and can voice its opinions about major infrastructure projects costing more than EUR300 million. The project in question is a 705MW facility under development off the coast of Picardie, in the north of the country, by La Compagnie du Vent, one of France's leading developers and owner-operators of wind power, now majority-owned by energy giant GDF-Suez.

Jean-Mathieu Kolb, director of offshore activities at La Compagnie du Vent, says the company has been holding consultations with elected officials, associations and other stakeholders since late 2005. It will now involve the public in a series of debates at locations within a 200km radius of the site.

The public will be able to ask questions of independent experts and those invited by the developer. Kold believes the debates will enhance the project's legal standing but they will cost time and money. While the state pays for the four commissioners who will chair the debates, Kolb estimates the developer will face a bill of several hundred thousand euros for the operation, logistics and organisation.

The company recently took the four commissioners on a fact-finding trip to Denmark to visit offshore installations and talk to stakeholders, including fishermen and environmental associations. Films of these interviews will form part of the debate and be available online, along with transcripts of the debates. The debate started on April 28.

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