Local town pleased with extra income -- Biggest wind farm in France

A joint Anglo-Spanish consortium will soon inaugurate France's biggest wind farm, the 20.8 MW Souleilla-Corbieres plant in the relatively windy southwest Aude département. EOLE-RES, a 50-50 venture between French Eole Technologie SARL and Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (RES) of England, is finishing work on the 7.8 MW phase one of the wind farm. The remaining 13 MW will be installed by March. Both phases are using Bonus 1.3 MW turbines and most of the towers will be built near Marseilles by EOLE Industries.

Souleilla-Corbières is serving as a model of a French wind industry still in its pioneering days as the first projects under the EOLE 2005 wind program are built. Above all, everyone involved is concerned not to create a not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) effect. So far the laborious planning procedures have ensured this has not happened.

"One of the benefits of the French system is that when contracts are awarded there is lots of input. If there are environmental problems, the project won't be selected," says Peter Quilleash of RES. Great care has been taken at Souleilla-Corbières to comply with the conditions of the planning permit, right down to precise road widths and re-routing them to avoid semi-rare plants. Part of the nine kilometre power line to the substation on the coast had to be routed underground to avoid the proposed route of the high speed TGV rail link between France and Spain.

Financial windfall

The population of rural France has an economic interest in the success of wind since wind farms bring local tax revenues and create employment. Treilles, the town which owns the land at Souleilla-Corbières, is delighted that its coffers have unexpectedly been filled by a windfall. "All we have here are rocks, vines and wind," says the mayor. "Now we can afford to renovate the village." EOLE-RES has a contract with the authority for 15 years with an option to renew it for a further 15 years.

EOLE-RES will subsequently build a smaller wind farm of eight, 1.3 MW Bonus turbines south of Souleilla-Corbières at Opoul-Périllos, in Pyrenees-Orientales département. This will extend over two communal authority areas, thus spreading the tax revenue.

Souleilla wind farm will be shown to delegates at the French wind conference in Narbonne on December 7-8.