Noise, bird deaths: Windfarm ordered to close for first time in France

Campaign groups successfully argued that the turbines were causing harm to birds and residents

A view of a wind turbine in the landscape in France
Campaign groups said that the turbines were causing damage to birds and distress to residents
Published Last updated

A windfarm in southern France has been ordered to close due to noise complaints from residents and the effect it is having on birds, in the first closure of its kind in the country.

The managing company of the site - Énergie Renouvelable du Languedoc (ERL), a subsidiary of the German group EnW - now has 15 months to dismantle the turbines and close the Bernargues windfarm in Lunas (Hérault, Occitanie), the Nîmes Court of Appeal ruled on Friday, December 8.

The company must return the land to its original state. If it misses the deadline, it will be subject to a fine of €3,000 per day for 180 days, for every day it is late.

A court in Montpellier had already ordered the wind turbines to be dismantled in February 2021, but the Montpellier court of appeal overturned that ruling in June of the same year.

The associations took the case to the Court of Cassation, and in January 2023, it overturned the decision, referring the case back to the Nîmes Court of Appeal.

The case centred on several complaints from bird and animal welfare associations about the negative effect the windfarm was having on protected birds in the area, and residents who have complained about noise nuisance from the farm since it first opened in 2016.

Two planning permission applications had also been refused for the site.

Bird deaths

The bird in question is the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos, 'aigle royal' in French). Last April, one of these rare birds was found dead at the base of a wind turbine, and the welfare associations estimate that the turbine’s blades have been responsible for the death of more than a thousand birds in the area.

The site is built on an area that is home to many of the eagles, said Marjolaine Villey-Migraine, spokesperson for biodiversity activism group le Collectif pour la protection des paysages de la biodiversité 34-12.

“The golden eagle is unique, it hunts on 150 km², this is its territory,” she told BFMTV. “This has mainly been a fight for biodiversity, and that is where we have been vindicated [with this court decision].”

Resident noise complaints

Residents in the immediate surrounding area have long complained about the noise from the windfarm.

“The nuisance in summer is really unpleasant. It's good that [the company] must remove them,” said Marion-Laure Jessel, a resident and member of the group fighting against the windfarm, to BFMTV.

Nicolas Gallon, lawyer for the group of associations, said: “This site was built on the basis of a planning permission that was annulled by the administrative court.

“A few months after construction was completed, the administrative court annulled the planning permission because it considered that there were shortcomings in what is known as ‘the impact study’,” he said.

He added that the chance of the company appealing against the decision - or its success if it does - were slim, "because the Court of Cassation has already handed down a ruling previously”.

The company has not responded to media requests for comment.

Turbine opposition

It comes after a court in Toulouse ruled in 2021 that six wind turbines near a couple’s farmhouse had caused them physical, emotional and financial distress; and a case in 2022 when locals in Brittany won their appeal against the building of XXL wind turbines.

The court recognised the turbines' capacity to ‘damage the landscape and the amenities of the surrounding homes’ in the village.

However, this is the first time that a company has had to close its windfarm and return the land back to its original state following a court ruling.

Despite the opposition, France has moved to champion wind power as a major renewable energy source, and President Macron has repeatedly referred to plans to build 50 offshore windfarms as part of the country’s transition away from fossil fuels.

Related articles

France to build six nuclear reactors and 50 offshore wind farms
Which departments in France have the most wind farms?
How do I find out where new wind turbines are planned in France?