Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy deserves credit for a number of courageous policy decisions during his presidency. Bringing France back into the NATO military command structure, leading NATO into and through Libya, challenging the West to get serious about Iran’s opaque nuclear program, and staying the course in Afghanistan despite the war’s unpopularity all come to mind. But building windmills off the Normandy coast doesn’t fall into that category. This is a bad idea for at least two reasons.
First, there’s the historical importance of the waters that lap onto Normandy—waters that delivered the largest amphibious-landing force in history on June 6, 1944. If plans go forward—tenders for the multi-billion-euro project are being awarded this year—a bed of wind turbines rising up to 525 feet high will be planted off what was known as "Juno Beach" on D-Day. Some windmills could be up and running by 2015.
French government officials tell Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that the giant windmills will be so far out to sea that they will appear like "matchsticks" from the beaches. But veterans groups on both sides of the Atlantic aren’t buying that defence.
"Our organizations regard this as an invasion of sacred grounds, where so many warriors gave their lives," the Port Winston Churchill Association of Arromanches declared in a statement. "They will be visible from all the Normandy landing beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword," according to Gérard Lecornu, the group’s president. "D-Day is in our collective memory. To touch this is a very grave attack on that memory."
How grave? In Britain, some veteran RAF pilots have warned—no doubt, tongue-in-cheek—that they might take to the air again to bomb the windmills.
Given that Juno was Canada’s beachhead, the Normandy windmills are especially unsettling to some Canadian veterans. Calling the Normandy beaches "hallowed grounds," D-Day veteran Jack Martin described the wind-farm plans as "a disgusting affair" in an interview.
Canadians have every right to weigh in. After all, some 42,000 Canadians died liberating France and the rest of Europe in World War II. As former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney once observed, "If people want to know how Canada paid for its seat in Europe, they should check out the graves in Belgium and France."
The planned Normandy-area wind farm is part of a larger effort to plant hundreds of wind turbines along France’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines by 2020. The French government believes the wind-farm project will generate the electricity equivalent of two nuclear power plants. Best of all, say the project’s proponents, it’s all clean and green.
That brings us to a second problem with France’s wind-farm plans: Modern-day windmills are anything but environmentally friendly.
Robert Bryce, editor of the Energy Tribune, reports that wind turbines in the United States kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds annually.
"Such numbers earned wind-power generators the moniker ‘Cuisinarts of the Air,’" adds Diane Katz, a former Fraser Institute colleague. She notes that in Canada "the wind-power industry enjoys a degree of political favor that would make most other energy executives green with envy. The province of Ontario, for example, actually requires utilities to purchase wind power at inflated rates."
Indeed, as Gerry Angevine and his team in the Fraser Institute’s Global Resource Centre detail in a recent report, policymakers in Canada and the U.S. are employing renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to "require electric-power utilities to use renewable energy sources such as wind for generating a certain percentage of their overall electricity supplies." Angevine’s report notes that 29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have enacted RPSs, while three Canadian provinces have RPS programs. The report adds that in most situations, generating electricity from onshore wind-power installations depends on government subsidies and mandates to be competitive with other forms of power generation. Moreover, offshore wind-power generation is more costly and generally cannot compete with electric-generation technologies that rely on non-renewable energy sources such as natural gas and uranium.
The Institute for Energy Research observes that in the U.S., per unit of energy output, "wind subsidies dwarf those of more conventional resources." In 2010, subsidies for wind totaled $56.29 per megawatt hour. Nuclear ($3.14), hydroelectric ($0.82), coal ($0.64) and natural gas/petroleum liquids ($0.64) were all substantially lower. In short, a better path—for France, Canada and the United States—would be to allow market forces to determine the most cost-effective and efficient way to deliver energy.
Of course, if France wants to try to power its cities with windmills, it has every right to do so. But given what Canadians and Americans did for France 68 Junes ago, perhaps the new French government could find someplace other than the Normandy coastline to carry out its wind-farm experiment.