An Emmanuel Macron victory in the second round of presidential elections this Sunday is vital to save France’s wind power sector – but far-right challenger Marine Le Pen has made life tougher for the industry even if she loses again.
Le Pen in her election programme warns of a supposed looming energy and food crisis linked to the EU’s “counter-productive” Green Deal, and calls not only for a moratorium on wind and solar power and an end of subsidies for projects, but even says she would ‘start the gradual dismantling of sites’. The far-right leader previously has made clear she is also opposed to “useless” and “costly” offshore wind.
France instead should become carbon-free through hydropower, geothermal and nuclear, the election manifesto of Le Pen’s ‘National Rally’ party demands.
Incumbent Macron at an election rally in Le Havre, where offshore wind manufacturing plants are located, last week lashed out against Le Pen, calling her fantasy of getting out of renewables a “complete aberration”.
“We would be the only country in the world to do so,” Macron said, adding that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros would need to be spend for such an ill-advised plan, which could also lead to the closure of Siemens Gamesa’s new offshore wind turbine factory in Le Havre.
Macron has already given ground
Latest election polls (by Ipsos-Sopra Steria on Monday) see Macron ahead at 55.5% against 44.5% for Le Pen, with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points, while recent embezzlement accusations by the EU’s anti-fraud body against Le Pen’s party just a week before the run-off vote likely won’t help the populist leader either.
But it would be naïve to think the threat to wind power in the EU's second largest economy will vanish with a Le Pen defeat.
Even if posing as the saviour of renewables in Le Havre, Macron has already caved in to some of the demands by the extreme right, at least in parts.
When outlining his energy vision through 2050 at a pre-election rally in February, and claiming he understood controversies over new onshore wind projects, Macron said Paris has re-thought targets for wind on land, and now plans to only double the country’s onshore capacity by 2050, from around 18.5GW at the end of last year – a target that is way less ambitious than that of neighbouring countries such as Germany.
“It is possible to reconcile wind development with landscape protection, and our natural and cultural heritage,” was how Macron justified the planned slow expansion in a speech with nationalistic undertones. Also, just like Le Pen, he promised to build a series of new nuclear power plants.
The president did, however, pledge France would build 50 offshore wind farms by 2050, and also boost its solar expansion.
Dangers to wind power loom not only from politics in France, but also through court action.
French wind projects have become the “systematic targets” of legal challenges a lawyer of the Paris-office of law firm Fieldfisher warned late last year after residents were awarded €110,000 ($119,000) over alleged health impacts from turbines.
In what was billed as a first-of-a-kind case in France, a couple received the compensation payout after complaining of a range off ill-effects including headache, dizziness and sleep disturbance from the sound and lights of six turbines near their Languedoc farmhouse.
The compensation was awarded after a six-year battle with the project’s operators, reported Le Figaro, which quoted the complainants as saying their “daily life became nightmarish” following installation of the turbines 700-1,300 metres from their home, which they were eventually forced to leave.
A Macron victory, obviously, is the desired outcome for Europe’s wind sector (and for the climate), but the industry must remain vigilant as challenges are likely to continue on multiple fronts in France.