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Monday, 08 June 2009

News from the French press

Are windmills environmentally friendly?

From Le progrés

Clean energy: while energy windmills have their detractors, the possible benefits have most of France debating the pros and cons of this national interest.

While farmers used to use wind energy to grind their grain, today windmills provide enormous amounts of clean electricity. France currently counts over 2300 energy windmills spread throughout the nation, with a combined energy output of 3400 megawatts. In 2008, the windmills produced 5.6 billion kilowatt hours of energy, just over 1% of the nation’s total electrical production. The Rhône-Alpes region, located in eastern France, counts 88 windmills in the Drôme-Ardèche department, with 30 more recently obtaining construction permits and a hundred more new-built windmills that will soon begin turning. According to recent polls, 79% of the French have a “favorable” attitude towards the construction of windmills in their area, and 62% have one or more windmills less than a kilometer from their homes. However, this popular source of clean, renewable energy has its critics, who cite in opposition noise and visual pollution as well as question their efficiency.

The aesthetics of such an installation are, naturally, very subjective. While there are those who unfavorably imagine the French countryside covered in the windmills, “damaging” the view, in Denmark, for example, residents consider the windmills a physical testimony to their commitment to clean and environmentally friendly energy. In France, a small wind park that was installed adjacent to an old wooden windmill drew no objections. As to the complaints of noise pollution, the noise from the blades can hardly be heard a few hundred meters away from the windmill, which is nothing compared to the noise from a highway or railroad, much less an airport. Furthermore, the new models of windmills are larger, turn slower, and thus are quieter, with no change in output efficiency. Once these concerns have been addressed, there rests only one question: are windmills a viable and environmentally friendly source of electricity? Firstly, wind is a free and inexhaustible resource, and the windmills produce no pollution whatsoever. They can be disassembled and recycled. One of their selling points (for some) is that they make up for the shortcomings of nuclear energy; they can take over providing energy for the electrical grid in the case of an overheated power plant.

The nuclear lobby thus finds its place in the energy sector minimized. This minor takeover was epitomized by the introduction of government bonuses for windmill installations; said bonuses heavily subsidized nuclear production costs for decades. A second argument upon which to reflect: the installation of a wind farm always requires cooperation and consultation with the local population. A nuclear power plant, on the other hand, is systematically imposed upon a local population, classified as a national defense secret.

For a nation that chose to implement nuclear power, to now have these choices of clean, safe renewable energy after spending millions on power plants is profoundly irritating. However, as the problem of nuclear waste disposal remains unsolved and an ever-constant danger, France finds itself in the position of having to look for other sources of energy, such as windmills. Wind power joins the ranks of other renewable energies (waterpower, solar power, geothermics, wood and biomass) that will allow France to achieve its goal of producing 21% of its energy with renewable and environmentally friendly options by 2020.

Written by Stéphane Perraud

Edited and translated by Dara Kagan

Posted in Miscellaneous by dk at 1:35 PMPermalink

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