Wind tax doubles village budget -- Fruges coming online

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The first 70 MW of the biggest wind power installation to be built so far in France comes on line this month at Fruges in the northerly Pas-de-Calais département. The 140 MW wind farm is also the biggest by far for Ostwind, parent company of the French entity Ostwind International which developed and is building the plant. Thirty-five of the Enercon 2 MW turbines are now in place, with the remainder due to join them by June.

The project has been five years in the making and at one stage it looked as though it would never feel a breath of wind. Back in 2002 Ostwind was selected by a group of villages around Fruges to develop a project which was originally slated for 150 MW. The idea was supported strongly by the mayor of Fruges, Jean-Jacques Hilmoine, who saw it as a way to revitalise a declining agricultural area. The plans then grew to an even more ambitious 234 MW in 2003, at a time when the biggest wind plant in France were no more 20 MW and the country's entire installed capacity was just 147 MW.

Then in 2004, on the very last day before the siting permit could no longer be contested, an anti-wind association launched an appeal. The process took 18 months to go through the courts and resulted in the project being downsized to 140 MW. Building work finally started in October 2006.

Four groups

Standing on a plateau in and surrounded by farmland, the turbines are divided into four groups, each with its own grid connection, which required Ostwind to lay 120 kilometres of cable. Although only eight villages will end up with wind turbines installed in their territory, the business tax paid on project proceeds will be divided between all 26 communal authorities in the area. Fruges will see its budget quadruple as a result and 30 permanent jobs created.

Ostwind decided to retain ownership of 30 MW, another first for the company. It has established a subsidiary called Ostwind Production, based in Strasbourg, to manage the turbines remotely. Of the remaining capacity, Ostwind sold 92 MW to global wind fund manager Babcock & Brown Wind Partners and 18 MW to NGE Energie, part of the French construction company Groupe NGE. German Conergy will operate the plant on behalf of all three owners.

Prior to Fruges, Ostwind International had built only one other project in France, a 1.2 MW station at St-Clément, high up in the mountains of the Ardèche, which was inaugurated in 2005. The company recently received a siting permit for a 10 MW plant at St-Jacques-de-Néhou in Normandy. It has applications pending for a further 54 MW, plus around 500 MW at various stages of development in France.

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