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Le Pen: Is her plan to ban all French wind farms realistic?

The far-right presidential hopeful has pledged instead to build up nuclear production if elected. Why, and how would the plan work?  

Aerial photo of wind turbines in a field, La Marne, France

Marine Le Pen has pledged to get rid of all wind turbines as part of her presidential campaign promises Pic: Altitude Drone / Shutterstock

Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has pledged to ban all wind farms in France if she is elected this Sunday (April 24), in contrast to her opponent Emmanuel Macron who wants to increase their number.

Ms Le Pen would not only stop all new wind farm projects, but has also promised to dismantle existing parks.

This is in contrast to Mr Macron, for whom wind farms form a major part of his renewable energy strategy. He has pledged to build 50 parks by 2030, which would produce 40 gigawatts, the equivalent of 20% of France’s national electricity consumption. 

It comes as France has been described as “behind” on its wind farm production in comparison with other European countries, with just 8% of its power currently produced by 8,000 turbines nationwide.

Yet, Ms Le Pen has said she wants to see zero wind energy in the country by 2030. 

In an interview with BFMTV on March 1, she said: “I would start by freezing all the projects currently underway, especially offshore, and I would then dismantle existing farms.”

Why is Le Pen against wind farms? 

Among her arguments against the method include claims that their production is “extremely expensive”and not constant. 

A single turbine produces three megawatts per hour, but only when there is enough wind. The average turbine only works 75% of the time. Ms Le Pen has argued that carbon, hydro, and nuclear power are therefore more consistent.

However, experts have said that this argument is not valid. Professor François Cauneau, from the Mines school in Paris, told Le Huff Post: “The probability that there is no wind at any European wind park at any given time is zero. That means that it almost never happens.

“The intermittence of a local wind turbine is always compensated by another; there will always be one that will produce electricity somewhere, and that electricity will then be dispatched throughout the network.”

Ms Le Pen also claims that the wind turbines are ugly, and are causing “irreversible damage to our countryside”, including reducing country property values and costing people in France extra taxes to set up the system. 

She said she would “pay back five billion euros to households” that would have been spent on green energy, with wind farms a major contributor.

What does Ms Le Pen want to do instead? 

Ms Le Pen wants to greatly increase nuclear production to make up the shortfall. She has pledged to lengthen the life of existing nuclear reactors, and reopen the recently-closed reactors at Fessenheim. 

Read more: France's oldest nuclear power plant is now closed 

She wants to build around 20 new reactors by 2036, under a plan she has dubbed “Marie Curie”. This will enable nuclear power to provide 50% of France’s electricity by 2050, and will require the production of 14 new reactors, plus several “mini plants”.

However, this scenario relies on current nuclear capacity being pushed to the limit, and bringing production from nuclear up to 75-80% compared to the current 67%.

A pro-nuclear thinktank, Cérémé, has drawn up a hypothetical prediction in which 80% of power in France comes from nuclear by 2050, but this would require all current reactors to be in use for 70 years, in contrast to the 60-year limit proposed by Ms Le Pen.

Is Ms Le Pen’s plan even possible? 

The electricity transporter network RTE says that the “French electric system is mainly an exporter”, which means that in theory, reducing the wind farm output in France would not necessarily have a significant knock-on effect on national production.

However, Professor Cauneau has said her plans would not actually be possible. He said: “It is not possible, with the current state of the French electricity network, to shut down wind power in the short term in a painless way. 

He believes that Ms Le Pen’s plan is "not viable from a technical point of view because a wind turbine offers a flexibility that a nuclear power plant does not offer, in terms of rising to meet demand”. 

“You can't turn on a nuclear power plant and get it up to temperature right away. It takes a few dozen hours at best." 

RTE has also said that France is already set to suffer from shortages of power, as by 2030-2035, rising electric use will coincide with the closure of the oldest nuclear reactors, meaning that “France will suffer from a lack of low-carbon electricity to cover its needs”.

The first new nuclear reactors will likely not be delivered before 2035-2040.

There is also a risk that stopping current projects could mean contracts are broken, with considerable financial consequences for France. 

Professor Bernadette Ferrarese, co-director of the master's degree in energy law at the University of Lyon 3, said: “Almost all wind farms benefit from a system of aid from the public authorities, which has been defined by contracts and is legally binding. 

“So to undermine their activity from one day to the next would lead them to say that they are suffering a very significant economic loss and for which they would seek compensation from the state."

Similarly, a 2018 European directive requires member states to ensure 32% of their energy consumption comes from renewable sources. If France does not develop its wind farm production, this will be difficult to achieve, said Professor Ferrarese.

A number of energy experts have also said that Ms Le Pen’s plans are not in alignment with national low-carbon strategy la Stratégie nationale bas carbone (SNBC), which recommends “diversifying the electricity mix by developing renewable energies and mobilising biomass", rather than relying so much on a single, nuclear source.

RTE has not disagreed with this. It has stated: "Abandoning the principle of technological diversification in the electricity production mix runs the risk of not reaching the objective of carbon neutrality by the near date of 2050."

How does Ms Le Pen’s plan compare to Mr Macron’s?

Wind farms are a major part of his plan. He wants to increase the number of wind farms by a factor of five in 15 years, to produce a mix of renewable energy sources, for 50% production by 2035.

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