The wind farm at Bouin

Let’s say that it’s progress blown in on the wind. It started with little sail boats, little things with sails, and now you see that there are wind turbines which have come to our place. So for us, it is a bit thing that adds value to where we live.

I think that wind turbines for those areas which are a bit wild and windswept, that it is something that will be done in the future and we have made a lot of progress: since the first machines twenty years ago which made a few tens of kilowatts, we now have machines which make nearly ten thousand five hundred kilowatts per unit, so it is really impressive.

For me, it is fabulous, I think… these machines, they are graceful. I think that they are well integrated in the countryside; what’s more, the compensatory works which were part of the construction of this park were done to hide the numerous electrical lines which are all over the site.

It has brought a lot of tourism, a lot, a lot; you could say that it has tripled it, maybe more. For us, we walk here, we come here by bicycle, personally I bring children, they can do a hike from a fixed point that they can then visit at the end. That is superb for us. We are all thrilled to have wind turbines near our home.

You have to recognize that these wind turbines are aesthetic, that they bring for the local authority in Bouin a not negligible tax. And then it is true that they are attractive.

The noise? Not at all, we hear very little. You could say an ordinary kitchen fan; no, no we must not criticize them for noise.

It is true that they are majestic and they deserve the favourable reception which they’ve received in Bouin, a little town by the ocean in Vendee, in the west of the country. There are eight of them; some 100m high. Their purpose? To transform the wind from the ocean into electricity; 20 megawatts, that’s the capacity for the supply of electricity for 20,000 homes.

These machines are the largest of those which are installed on a production site. There are prototypes a little larger but for production machines, these are the largest.

I think that from the outset it is a question of materials, we can now make turbine blades from composite materials which are, as you can see, each blade is several dozen metres long and there is even a prototypes in Germany which has blades which exceed 500 metres long. Well these composite materials, you have to calculate very accurately the forces which will be up there and so for that it is a question of modelling. We can say that the progress of IT allows us to make much ore accurate models and so then to build them and there too we have learned by making them. So that is the first things and then equally the control system has made a lot of progress with there again, the progress of IT. And than we see too… we have a good body of knowledge about the machines that exist. In the world today, there are more than 30,000 megawatts of wind turbines installed and so we knew to look a bit at the problems which there machines had to improve the following generations.

Progress on renewable energy came after the Kyoto agreement in 1997, which aimed at reducing the emission of green house gases, principal cause of global warming. The European Union forecast producing between now and 2010, 21% of electricity consumed, generated from renewable sources. Claude Nohen is the director of renewable development and the environment at EDF:

21 per cent is a very ambitious objective, today we have 15% thanks to hydro-electricity, so that means 6% more from all the renewable sources; hydro production can do one or two percent, so we’d have to make a lot of wind turbines to get there.

At a price of 23 million euros, installations like those at Bouin are not profitable today. So you have the action from the state to get things started. But the objective over time is to be truly competitive:

Electricity is bought back by contract by EDF (Electricite de France). It is an action which was taken by the government to oblige EDF to purchase electricity produced by wind turbines at a rate which has been fixed by ministerial decree and which makes it possible at the beginning to make these operations profitable and to install a reasonable number of these farms in France which will bring about eventually the profitability of electricity at the right price.

Will that stay much more expensive? Not always, it depends on the location, if we have a site which is very windy like that which we have in Morocco, for example; we have a sales contract with ONE which is the electricity company of Morocco, absolutely without any subsidy and for which we are competitive. So that is the first part of the answer. And we can also think too that the cost of the machines is going to go on reducing. It has already gone down a lot in the last twenty years and we can think that it is still to down by a very considerable steps and so we ought to approach competitively with traditional ways somewhat more than the traditional ways, in any case these which use gas which is of course the most used today, which are subject to fluctuations in the price of gas.

Jean-Louis Cans manages the financial aspects of the project. For him, the privatisation of the electricity market in Europe ought not to threaten the objectives:

Not at all, since over time, in fact whilst the cost of production from wind turbines will have gone down and will have become, with this type of experiment, will have become profitable, it will be possible to sell it on the open electricity market, with green certificates as they are called; this will allow independent buyers to buy electricity made without green house gases and not nuclear. So in a few years, electricity made by these big machines is going to be available on the open electricity market at prices absolutely competitive with those from other green sources.

But the support of the local people is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the wind farm at Bouin. A recent poll showed that 94% of the residents support the project. The farm is in the oyster park in the former wet lands reclaimed after the war. The support of the mayor Jean-Yves Gagneux was a key factor in the agreement of the residents:

The oyster farmers, I know then better than anyone else, as I from a family of oyster farmers, I have never had, up to now, a complaint from any oyster farmer who works near the site.

Personally, from the first contacts that we had, they declared right away, in favour of this wind farm because of the clean energy which was going to be available right here.

It is time that today’s wind turbines are really silent in contrast to the first models which provoked debate on that matter twenty years ago:

The noise, the evidence is the opposite, today I think that you hear more wind even in the wide open than what is at the foot of the turbine or even the sound of the turbine blades themselves which make practically none.

In the end, there are financial repercussions which are far from being negligible. For a community of 2,300 people, effectively it is the jackpot:

That perhaps was not a determining element in the decision, but in the end, it was the forecast of the order of one hundred and eighty thousand euros per annum for business tax. Well, that’s good business all right. I think that the jobs are certain for years ahead, were it only for the changes to the town centre, the departmental road which crosses right by the town that they are planning to bring. I think that we will not have any concerns on that side.

At the cafe in the harbour, the owner does not hide his satisfaction:

It was doing well before of course, so this, this is an extra, not a negligible extra since people come regularly to see the wind turbines. There are people passing through and they take advantage of the cafe and so we have enlarged our products as we sell bottles engraved with the wind turbines on them which we call "l’eol du bec"; and then we know how to welcome people with muscles and oysters of course.

What is the future for wind energy after the success at Bouin? The authorities are encouraged but they are keeping a good dose of realism.

So, we could do more important sites, but we have to pay attention to the landscape of course, so it is really a case of following the regions, and we can imagine more important sensitive sites. But there are other regions which there ought to be smaller wind farms.

If you like, we are here in Vendee in a department where tourism is very important whose image is that of a coastline with beaches, a distinctive landscape, very, very distinctive, which is responsible for the economic success of the department and it is a bit worrying for the leaders and decision makers of the department that the wind turbines have just disturbed the richness both economic and environmental of the department. Really and truly, these fears strike at the hearts of our managers. Now it is certain that the site at Bouin will truly be a demonstration that we can create an alliance, as I would say, in the department of tourism between the production of clean energy and the development of tourism.

We were waiting for several years to see the start of the projects. At last we can see the appearance of real achievements. Real achievement can only be driven in an exemplary way by consultation and involvement. Our industrial experience is that with an industrial object like the turbine – and the turbines that we see in Bouin are turbines which are some hundred metres high, they are industrial objects that blend into the landscape with all the constraints in the area by carrying along the local elected councils and it cannot be a decision from Paris taken in a distant office. It is something which is local, which is truly an installation, with the local people, with the stakeholders of an area. Here we set it of course on the wet lands. These turbines are beautiful; they fit well on the web lands. They are compatible with the area and I have heard his honour the mayor who was talking of the consultation with the LPO [Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux], with the people of the hunt, with the farmers, with everyone. It is like that, that you can move these projects on. It is certainly not a unilateral way.

I think that for wind energy, there will be a limit which will be without doubt even less than 20%, at the scale of a large country; it is a little different in small countries because they have connections, international connections with foreign countries and they are important quite simply because it is an energy which is not guaranteed and therefore you must have complementary means of production of energy which use today’s state of technology, rather traditional thermal means, or hydroelectricity, or nuclear, or a mixture of the three as… as we have in France, we have a mix of energies which calls finally on all the methods of production.

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