In France, only a fifth of energy production comes from renewables. Large wind farms are now to be built at sea. But while people support nuclear power, there is opposition to wind energy.
A cable hoist lifts large green plastic crates full of scallops from the ship’s hold in the port of Le Tréport in Normandy. Fisherman Ludovic Matelot spent most of the night with his trawl in the English Channel. He is not satisfied with today’s catch, the scallop season is coming to an end. “The yield could be better,” he says somewhat monosyllabically.
Today’s catch isn’t his biggest concern though. The fishermen of Le Tréport fear for their future. “Maybe we have to give up fishing,” says Matelot.
Matelot’s boat is moored in front of the Le Tréport fishing cooperative building. A large sign on the wall reads: “No to the wind power dictatorship.” What irritates the fishermen: A wind farm is to be built 15 kilometers off the coast of Le Tréport.
Battle against the windmills
Olivier Becquet gesticulates wildly on the phone on the quay. He is the head of the fishing cooperative. The mid-sixty-year-old does not know rest. Becquet is the mouthpiece of the fishermen. For 15 years he has dedicated himself to the fight against the windmills.
“It’s just terrible for us what’s going to happen here,” he says. “Politicians just don’t understand what it means to build things in the sea. They think you can do anything without seeing how much wealth is under the water surface and how important fishing is economically.”
In Le Tréport, many of the 5,000 residents think like him. Everywhere in the idyllic little town with the tightly packed, dark brick houses in front of the high chalk cliffs, posters are hung up against the wind turbines.
Many of the 5,000 residents of Le Tréport are against the construction of offshore wind farms. Posters are hung up against the windmills everywhere.
Concern for fishing and tourism
People in the region are used to wind power, says restaurant owner Charlotte. All around Le Tréport, wind turbines turn in the fields. But on the sea it’s something different: “We’re also thinking about tourism here. We live 80 percent from fishing and tourism. That would then also affect all business here.”
Charlotte worries that no more tourists will come when the wind turbines change the view of the turquoise sea. With the colorful fishing boats coming and going through the picturesque harbor entrance, the view is Le Tréport’s trademark.
Less than 20 percent from renewable energy
France is now stepping up the pace when it comes to expanding wind energy. Up to now, 19.3 percent of the energy production in France has come from renewable energies. France thus falls short of the targets of the European Union.
President Emmanuel Macron has therefore issued the motto to complete 50 offshore wind farms on France’s coasts in the coming years. The one at Le Tréport is one of them.
According to the head of the fishing cooperative in Le Tréport, the local waters are the richest in fish in the entire English Channel.
Building in the fish rich zone
The boss of the fishing cooperative, Olivier Becquet, takes a small boat out to sea, close to where the wind farm is to be built. According to the plan, 62 wind turbines will soon turn here and generate electricity for 850,000 people.
For Becquet, this is completely the wrong place: “The water is relatively shallow, so more light gets in, the water is less cold, so there’s a lot of food. It’s the perfect mix, so this is the most fishy place in the whole English Channel .”
Many fishermen fear that the wind turbines will result in fewer fish in this part of the sea. So far, there have been few meaningful studies on this.
environmental organizations criticize the location
The French government approved this area in the English Channel more than ten years ago. The stable subsoil and the low water depth make it particularly easy to build here.
Environmental groups criticize that the location was chosen too close to the coast. There was also too little exchange with the local actors. Becquet also feels ignored by the French state. The fishermen’s suggestions for an alternative location were not taken into account.
Becquet and his colleagues fear that the fish will eventually disappear from this part of the sea. Even if the wind turbine operator claims the opposite. So far, there have been few meaningful studies on this. The fronts are hardened.
The Penly nuclear power plant is within sight of the planned offshore wind farm. This power plant is also to be expanded.
Two new reactors
Becquets drives his boat back towards the port, past the Penly nuclear power station in sight of the future wind farm. “It’s all crazy. But we have a nuclear power plant here that produces exactly the electricity that is needed every day,” he says. In Penly, two new reactors are to be built in addition to the two existing ones.
At Le Tréport, two pillars of future French energy policy, nuclear and wind power, are only a few kilometers apart. At least six new reactors are to be built across the country. According to surveys, two-thirds of the French think this is a good thing.
Little resistance to nuclear power
As great as the resistance to the offshore wind farm is, there is little resistance to the expansion of the nuclear power plant. At the moment, Penly’s two existing reactors are out of service due to corrosion, a large crack and maintenance work. Few are worried here.
According to the mayor of Le Tréport, Laurent Jacques, there is a lot of trust. One is used to nuclear power and the associated risk here. “I hardly know anyone here who says I’m against nuclear power. And I’m convinced that the expansion is a good project for the region,” he says. Many in the region are already benefiting economically from the nuclear power plant.
The mayor is hoping for more jobs from the new reactors: “Thousands of people will work there. Of course, they can’t all come from here. They have to be trained first. But the idea is that 50 percent come from the region.”
It’s different with the offshore wind farm: “The economic consequences for a community like ours are catastrophic. It’s about hundreds of jobs. We get nothing in return.” A maintenance station originally planned in Le Tréport is now being built in the neighboring town.
fight goes on
Construction work on the offshore wind farm is scheduled to begin next year. Olivier Becquet from the fishing cooperative does not want to be satisfied with the fact that the fishermen are no longer allowed to approach the area once the construction phase begins – despite compensation payments: “The people here want to work, have a wage at the end of the month, feed the families . We don’t want to become unemployed.”
Together with other fishermen, he submitted a petition to the European Parliament. Giving up is not an option for him.
You can see this and other reports in Europamagazin – on Sunday at 12.45 p.m. in the first.