Arson attack and a death threat -- Minority opposition

A Gamesa 700 kW turbine was destroyed and another damaged in an arson attack at La Compagnie du Vent's 5.6 MW installation at Roquetaillade in the Aude département of southern France. During the night of November 18 perpetrators forced open the doors and used gas cylinders and tyres filled with a flammable liquid to start fires inside the towers which gutted the nacelle of one machine. "It is a real shock to the local community, who fought hard to get the wind park built," says Roquetaillade mayor Jean Siret.

While there is no indication yet of who carried out the attack, both Siret and Jean-Michel Germa, president of La Compagnie du Vent, believe it could be the work of extremist opponents to wind power in France. The attack occurred just a day after Germa received a death-threat during an anti-wind demonstration at the other end of the country outside the venue of France's annual wind power conference, held in Amiens, north of Paris. Though Germa does not believe there is any direct connection with events at Roquetaillade, he considers "the anger and hatred displayed by militant anti-wind campaigners and the disinformation they propagate could encourage such behaviour." Germa adds: "It is not by chance this happened in France, where passions among the anti-wind lobby are so high."

The 30 or so demonstrators in Amiens included members of the umbrella association Vent de Colère and several local groups opposed to industrial scale wind power. They came partly in the expectation that environment minister Nelly Olin would address the conference; on the day she was attending the climate change conference in Nairobi. The groups argued, among other things, that large-scale wind power is not only a "vast fraud" lining the pockets of its promoters at the expense of electricity consumers, but is also destroying the countryside while failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to create permanent jobs. Also present was a far less vociferous group of fishermen from Tréport and the Baie de Somme concerned about an offshore project being developed by La Compagnie du Vent (page 36) and its possible effect on their livelihood.

Majority support

Nevertheless, the demonstration was a relatively small gathering and "not a big success" according to André Antolini, president of the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER). He acknowledges a tiny minority of the demonstrators were very aggressive. "This is not new in France -- they have always been part of the landscape," he says. In demonstration of how small the anti-wind sentiment is, an opinion poll carried out in September by national energy agency ADEME confirms once again that 93% of French people support wind power. Furthermore, 85% of people living near wind plant view them favourably.

ADEME favours dialogue on wind power and organises regular regional information meetings, says Bertrand Veron of ADEME Picardie. "It is important that people have an opportunity to express themselves," he adds. Representatives of opposition groups and local fishermen took part in round-table discussions during the Amiens conference, while the final morning was open to the general public. Of the 300 or so people who attended, the majority were generally in favour of wind power. A number of opponents also put forward their views, though the tone of the debate was less heated than during the previous day's demonstrations. "The session was very successful," says Veron. "The opposition had a chance to explain their arguments, while others were able to seek information and express their concerns."

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