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Is wind power a lot of hot air?

Wind turbines have split opinion in rural France amid fears they will bring down the value of property nearby.

Wind turbines are a contentious issue dividing rural France.

Those in favour of renewable energy sources view them as a symbol of victory while residents who have chosen to live in the countryside for its peace and tranquillity are exasperated by their increasing invasion of the landscape.

France is now home to 1,500 wind turbines and environmentalists say this is just the beginning.

For the first time, a map of France's existing and planned wind turbines has been published - in Le Figaro newspaper's magazine, allowing people to check if one is to be built near them.

The number of wind turbines in France is due to double by 2010. Currently there are 1,500 turbines producing 2,700 megawatts of power, located in 341 turbine parks. 450 turbines were built during 2007.

In 2010, the number of turbines will increase to 3,500, generating a total of 7,300 mw of power. A further 8,000 are to be built by 2020 (850 of these at sea), accounting for 25,000mw of power supplies.

Turbines are an acceptable energy source according to the Kyoto agreement which was ratified by France and the European Union.

This agreement has a goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 8% by 2012 in an effort to reduce the effect of global warming.

Turbines play a vital role in the attempt to reach a government target of 21% renewable energy production by 2010.

France produces the least amount of CO2 per resident in Europe and produces 77% of its power from nuclear energy. Natural gas, coal and petrol provide 10% of energy, while wind turbines provide just 0.73%.

According to figures released by France Energie using wind turbines to produce 25% of electricity would reduce gas emissions by 20%. However this energy cannot be stored, is intermittent and must be added to by other energy sources. Some environmentalists dispute these figures and say wind turbines cause a blot on the landscape.

President of the environmental company, Fédération Environnement Durable, Jean-Louis Butré, has labelled the drive for wind energy “a strategic error on a national scale.” He says wind energy actually increases demands on thermal energy reserves.

He said: “Wind turbines only work 20% of the time so we need to have back-up energy - in France this comes from thermal energy and natural gas, in Germany it comes from burning fossil fuels.

“So the more we rely on wind energy, the more we are actually producing gases which contribute to the ozone effect.”

Mr Butré believes the cost of wind energy is prohibitive.

“Wind energy costs two to three times the price of other forms of electricity, which would result in people paying an extra €200 or €300 for each electricity bill.

The homes of residents living near a turbine may also be worth 30% less.

“France is a country which relies on tourists yet turbines are ruining our landscape.”

Germany, currently the leader in wind energy and considering a ban on nuclear energy, has just ordered the construction of more than 20 power stations using coal as an energy source, as a back-up energy supply.

Expats Kath and Ian Haines moved to the peaceful hamlet of Peusicot near Genouillé (Poitou-Charentes) last year, unaware that a wind park with eight 135m turbines was to be built just 650m from their door.

Now they fear their house will be worth a third of the original price and worry how the turbines will affect their health.

Mr Haines said: “Everyone knew about the turbines but no one - not the mayor, estate agent or members of a local group campaigning against the turbines, said anything until two weeks after we had moved in. It was like a bombshell - we felt devastated.

“We are worried about possible nervous complaints as a result of vibrations from the turbines, and they are supposed to be noisy at night.

“We have been told it will take two years to set up the turbines and we are worried about how large machines and road traffic will fit down the tiny lane.

“We expect our property to drop by at least one third in value. The turbines will affect wildlife, bird migration, everything.”

Wind generated electricity is more expensive to produce, costing between €40 and €55 per megawatt hour compared to coal and gas which cost €30 and €45 per megawatt hour to produce.

The cheapest energy form is nuclear, costing just €26 to produce.

It is the consumer who pays the extra costs of renewable energy through their bills which may rise if EDF purchases more energy from this source.

Each two-megawatt turbine brings in €360,000 revenue each year to its provider, if it functions for an average 2,200 hours.

The price of installing a turbine is between €1m - €1.3million according to France Energie.

There is no shortage of investors in this industry. French transport and electricity company Alstom was just one of those to invest in the sector when it took over Ecotècnia, a Spanish turbine manufacturer, for a sum of €350 million.

Landowners of a site where the turbine is based are able to charge a rent of €1,000 to €2,500 per turbine each year.

Local councils also gain €500 to €700 per megawatt of power produced each year.

New turbines have also been responsible for the creation of 5,000 jobs - employed in research, turbine construction and the maintenance of turbine parks.

Often however, these do not directly involve local residents, many of whom claim only to suffer depreciation in the value of their property.

Insurance group MMA are offering a contract which covers property price depreciation if a turbine is built nearby.

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