Wind Farms have become rather a hot subject here in the Hautes Corbieres. EDF Energies Nouvelles ; working with a number of local Mayors, are working on a plan to install 30-40 wind turbines on four sites around Mouthoumet, Dernacueillette, Laroque-de-Fa, Davejean, Massac, Quintillan et Cascastel . There are also negotiations to add a wind farm in our village Maisons.
At the heart of the project is the painful reality that the Haut Corbieres is in a bad way, the local economy is stagnant. I have already witten about the slow and seemingly unstoppable decline of the Hautes Corbieres, The decline of Maisons and the Hautes Corbieres
Villages, and the collectivities that organise communal activities like rubbish collection and disposal are seeing their budgets cut year after year. The level of rural services are falling, particularly painful for an aging population.
The EDF Energies Nouvelles project promises a source of revenue for struggling communes, the six wind turnines they are talking about installing around Maisons could bring in around 32,000 euros a year, not an unsubstancial revenue for a commune of 35 voters.
The political context for local government does not look rosé, we have already seen the Languedoc Roussillon region subsumed into the new, vast, Occitanie Region based out of Toulouse. There Is more and more talk about abolishing Departments and pushing their responsibilities either up to Regions or down to Cantons/Intercommunities. Every time re-organisations like these happen the one consistent event is that budgets get cut. I would not be surprised to see that small communes, such as Maisons and lots of the surrounding villages up here in the Hautes Corbieres, do not see their administrations merged into “manageable” units by the new Macron regime.
Raymond Spoli, Mayor of Laroque de Fa, quoted in the local press said. “L’enjeu, ce n’est pas simplement l’éolien Ce projet s’inscrit dans un plan global visant à répondre à un réel problème de financement dans les Hautes Corbières. En tant que maire de petite commune, je dois composer avec un budget extrêmement restreint. Le moindre projet implique de s’y prendre trois ans à l’avance ! Plus globalement, ce territoire perd ses vignerons, ses commerçants, ses artisans… Si les gens qui restent sur place ne trouvent pas de solutions pour inverser la donne, les Hautes Corbières se transformeront en désert. Il faut parvenir à refaire de l’économie sur ce territoire ! » L’éolien serait l’un des moyens.”
Roughly translated “This is not just about the wind turbines. This project is part of a larget plan to address the very real problem of our revenue in the Hautes Corbieres. As a Mayor of a small commune I have to manage with a very tight budget. Even the smallest project has to be planned three years in advance. The wider context is that this area has lost its vignerons, it’s shops, it’s artisans. If the peope that remain here do not find a solution to reverse this trend then the Hautes Corbieres will be transformed into a desert. We need to rebuild the local economy, the wind turbines are one of the solutions.”
Most of my mates have got together to form Collectif citoyen pour les Corbières vivantes to oppose the wind turbine project. Their arguments is essentially that the wealth of the Hautes Corbieres lies in the richness of it natural environment. The areas under consideration for the wind turbines are within the Natura_2000 Nature 2000 projects , and also Zones naturelles d’intérêt écologique, faunistique et floristique, zones of particular environmental, fauna and flora interest. The LPO has worked hard to protect the four varieties of large raptors in the Hautes Corbieres, including the golden eagle pairs and the Banolli eagles, and there is also a number of bat breeding habitats. They are for the development of low impact sustainable renewable energy system that would make the Hautes Corbieres independent of the grid. Though how this would be funded and developed rest a tad hazy. The proximity of the historically important sites of the Cathar castles also has led to a fear that the wind turbines will negatively effect the tourist industry.
In a wider context there are concerns that the whole project was negotiated behind closed doors between the local Mayors and EDF Energies Nouvelles , with a real lack of local consultation.
Last, but not least is a general unease with the renewable energy policy of the national government; which favours large scale projects over smaller low impact initiatives. In essence the energy policy favoure the giants, like EDF Energies Nouvelles over community lead initiatives.
The large scale renewable energy machine is not unstoppable. The Prefecture of the Aude has already vetoed the Cascastel project of eight 2.35 MegaWatt turbines, see http://www.lindependant.fr/2017/04/19/eolien-un-gros-projet-rejete-dans-les-hautes-corbieres,3007082.php The LPO, Ligue pour la protection des Oiseaux , the French RSPB, has successfully had planning permission fr a wind farm in Roquefort-des-Corbières blocked by the courts because of the danger it presented to Bonnelli Eagles and bats http://www.lindependant.fr/2017/05/18/parc-eolien-de-roquefort-un-non-definitif,3016271.php
Now we live with both a wind farm on top of our mountain, Mont Tauch, and also large pylons that connect the nuclear power stations of the Rhone Valley to the, very profitable, Spanish market cross our land. We have got use to both of them, the wind turbines are strangely elegant, with only the occasional sound pollution, and the pylons are like giant ents marching across the countryside. I can see why people would not like them, particularly if they are not use to them. But as global warming slowly heats up the Mediterranean basis, and drys up Hautes Corbieres there are larger issues under way. Who said the transition to a low carbon economy would be without growing pains?
The environmental impact of wind turbines is of course a major concern. Yes wind turbines kill birds, a meta-analysis conducted by Benjamin K. Sovacool says that in the US around 20,000 birds are killed by wind turbines, that works out at 0.269 per GWh of wind power per bird. Contrast that with the bird deaths due to other human activities and cats total between 797 million and 5.29 billion per year in the U.S. The most effective way to protect the bird population according to these figures would be to exterminate domestic and feral cats. I’d like to see how long the career lasts of the politician that proposes that.
I understand the concerns of both “sides”, we do need a coherent strategy for the economic, and environmental, development of the Hautes Corbieres. Renewable energy must play an important role in that, as must the sustainable financing of our services. The problem is it is not an either or situation between two different projects. It is either we get the wind turbines or we don’t. Despite my deep reservations on the French government’s renewable energy policy, if the wind turbines do not adversely effect the raptor or bat population then they should go ahead. If the proposed sites are bad for the local fauna then new sites need to be located.
That is my initial thoughts, but minds can be changed.
However for those that disagree here is the petition to the Prefect of the Aude opposing the wind turbines POUR UNE TRANSITION ENERGETIQUE ADAPTEE AUX HAUTES-CORBIERES !
Collectif citoyen pour les Corbières vivantes are organising a day of discussions, walks, and naturally food in Termes on the 29th July. Sadly we will no be there as Saturday is market day, but we wish them all well.