France will run out of puff in aim for more wind farms

France is set to fall short of its commitment to have 25,000MW (25GW) of wind energy capacity by 2020 with protests delaying projects for years, meaning that there are only 12GW of wind turbines currently in place across the country.

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Total wind capacity across Europe makes wind the second largest power generator after gas – it overtook coal last year, nuclear in 2013 and oil in 2007 – but France is lagging behind other countries. It is fourth in European rankings behind Germany (50GW), Spain (23GW) and the UK (14GW).

Last year France put a record 1.5GW on line but Xavier Barbaro, of Neoen – a key company in France in the renewable energy sector – said it needed to be 2GW.

Although the last government eased the 25GW requirement by setting new aims in the 2015 energy transition law for 15GW by 2018, and 21.8GW–26GW by 2023, concerns over health and natural habitat loss sparked fierce opposition in many areas.

Very active opponents have meant wind farms face a long and often expensive journey from planning to turning their first blade. While the average wind farm project is agreed in two to four years in Germany, it takes six to eight years in France.

One plan, for six turbines at Perles, Aisne, has been under challenge for 14 years with the mayor of nearby Vauxcéré battling to stop the giant windmills being erected just a few hundred metres from his farm and within site of the Chemin des Dames First World War heritage site.

Elsewhere, the Académie de Médecine has recognised health risks, especially noise nuisance, but noted “idiopathic environmental intolerances” where “rather subjective” stress-related ailments were linked to “individual susceptibilities”.

In all, six out of 10 wind farm projects are challenged in court – but some of these have also faced criminal inquiries, with councillors and mayors investigated for possible conflicts of interest or corruption in projects they had approved.

Several councillors were given suspended jail sentences for approving wind farms – which can pay thousands of euros a year – on their own property.

Despite this, at the end of 2016, wind power supplied the non-heating and hotwater needs of more than 20million people in France and covered 5% of this energy demand – and in the process helped to take 12 nuclear power stations off-grid.

Across Europe wind power gives 330,000 jobs but few are created locally. The main work is in manufacture – but leading French firm, FrancEole in Côte d’Or, went into administration in May with 159 jobs lost saying there was 30% over-capacity.