Allaying fears over major French offshore project

FRANCE: The country's first-ever national debate over a 700MW offshore plant has led to fierce criticism and a developer ready to change its plans.

The first national public debate to be held in France for an offshore wind power project has ended with the developer proposing a number of changes to appease the sometimes virulent opposition.

La Compagnie du Vent has until mid-January to decide whether to continue with the project, a 700MW facility in the Channel off Le Treport. In the meantime, it is exploring various options. "We want to work with all stakeholders so that the project combines the best economic, environmental and social criteria," says Jean-Mathieu Kolb, director of offshore activities at La Compagnie du Vent.

All major infrastructure projects in France costing more than EUR300 million must undergo a public debate to ensure that the public is kept fully informed and can voice opinions (Windpower Monthly, May 2010). The debate for the Deux Cotes project comprised 12 meetings with presentations by independent experts alongside those invited by the developer, plus online participation. La Compagnie du Vent also took the four commissioners, local fishermen and journalists on fact-finding trips to wind projects in Denmark.

Economic benefits

Three versions of the project were presented for debate, with preference given for the Large project. The strongest support came from the regional and departmental authorities, local chambers of commerce and nearby ports such as Dieppe and Le Havre, attracted by the promised economic and employment benefits. A few people working in the local wind industry also backed it, as did some environmentalists - though with certain reservations.

Nevertheless, most of the participants speaking at the meetings opposed the project. Among the fiercest critics were local fishermen who feared for the survival of their industry. Worries over the loss of fishing grounds, safety and the possible disruption of spawning areas and fish migration were the main causes for concern - though a few did recognise the project might offer well-paid alternative work. Other speakers decried the "industrialisation" of an area of natural beauty and questioned whether it would bring real economic benefit, while others voiced their complaints about the excessive cost of wind power.


La Compagnie du Vent put forward 12 proposals to allay some of these concerns, including local recruitment wherever possible, consulting fishermen on the layout and management of the plant, installing artificial reefs, assisting fishermen to retrain, encouraging tourism and carrying out additional impact studies.

At the closing session, the company offered two further amendments to its Large project. First, it would realign the turbines and bury the cables at least 1.5 metres deep to allow trawling. This would mean the loss of only a tiny fraction of the fishing area, compared to 5% as previously calculated, it says. Second, it would shift the project four kilometres farther off the coast and reorient it slightly to reduce its visual impact. "This proposal was welcomed, but work remains to explain clearly to the local population the benefits of the new layout," Kolb says.

It remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient. One positive sign is that the fishermen have drawn up a list of conditions to be met if the project goes ahead, Kolb points out. Among other things, they demand to be consulted on the setting up of the plant and the conditions under which fishing would be allowed; to collaborate on further studies; and to receive compensation during the construction phase. While not all their demands are within the control of La Compagnie du Vent, Kolb considers the conditions achievable.

Lack of support

Other developers followed the proceedings closely. Brice Cousin, offshore project manager for WPD Offshore, feels it was "a very rich debate" but regrets the poor showing from supporters of wind power. Marion Lettry, deputy commissioner for wind, hydro and marine energies at trade association Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER), agrees. While SER is in favour of such debates in principle, it questions how effective they are when it is mostly the opposition who attend.

The industry also wonders how useful it would be for all offshore wind projects to go through the same process. "It would be better to have one debate for each seaboard rather than for single projects," Cousin argues. Indeed, the chairman of the Deux Cotes debate, Philippe Marzolf, called on the environment minister to do just that, so that all the offshore projects along a stretch of coastline can be considered together for approval.

However, Kolb believes that the public wants a fairly precise idea of the details of the project, which is more difficult on the scale of a coastline.

The French government was about to launch a tender for 3GW of offshore wind as Windpower Monthly went to press.

Large project is the preferred option
from DEPTH
Littoral 300 700 5.5 under 10
Large 700 1,800 14 10-20
Grand Large 1,600 4,800 25 20-35

Job creation Tax
(temp/ payable
Proposal Long term*) (EURm/yr)
Littoral 800-1,300/75 3.6
Large 1,600-1,900/150 8.4
Grand Large 1,600-1,900/310 N/A**
* for 30 years ** lies outside territorial waters.