Life with the Big Brutes

Posted 7 June 2018

Not a breath of wind today. The six wind turbines that surround our property stand silent and still. I’m really glad of it.

When “Big Bertha”, as the locals call her, a mere 500m from the house, really gets going on rare days of buffeting winds, she makes a mind-blowing din, like two planes landing at Gatwick Airport.

But for the past six weeks they have been off more than on, proving the point we tried to make all along - there is insufficient wind in this area. The only financial gain to Quadran, the company responsible for them, are due to government grants - from our taxes.

For several weeks last summer, while they were being built, I regularly bumped into the lads from Windhoist, the Irish company that installed them, and translated their requests for their lunchtime butty fillings to Amelie, the baker.

Why are you putting those things so near to my friend’s house?

...demanded Pat, a visiting friend, never known for holding back. One of them said,

Why are we putting them up at all, that’s the question!
Sure, there’s no wind up there. This isn’t Inverness that rocks the life out of yer up in the control box.

We regularly hear grinding noises from those control boxes, nearly 150m up, as the computerised electronics vainly attempt to turn the blades to catch the tiniest breeze. And that uses electricity. It doesn’t produce it.

At a distance of 1200m a wind turbine can have a certain elegance. But last May France’s Académie de Médecine claimed that at 500m the irregular and constant vibrations of the blades, the blinking night lights, and daytime strobing have a detrimental impact on physical and psychological wellbeing. Strobing in the sitting room is certainly disturbing. Fortunately no one in the family has epilepsy.

When the law establishing the distance from dwellings was made, turbines were barely more than 100m high. The latest monsters are now 220m high. The Eiffel tower is only 300m high. Most people in our village, who don’t even live with them, are shocked at the sheer size of the brutes. We were. We thought we could hide them by planting trees. No chance.

C’est une atroce!

...announced our new, anti-turbine mayor to Quadran, when he first set eyes on our beloved Big Bertha.

In January, Macron’s new, inexperienced Minister for the Environment, Nicolas Hulot, announced he would shut 17 of France’s 58 nuclear plants, replacing them with wind power by 2025. Retired physicist, Jean-Louis Butré, Président of La Fédération Environnement Durable, France’s most outspoken critic of wind power, estimates that would require 15,000 to 20,000 turbines.

Butré managed to win a campagne to protect the Normandy battlefields, but plans are afoot for the Dordogne, Bourgogne, Charente, Rhones-Alpes, Auvergne, Ardeche, in fact all over the French countryside where English ex-pats have revived dying rural life. Nowhere is sacrosanct, not even the 49 regional nature parks, already targeted by developers. Only a threat from UNESCO to remove its world heritage site status saved Mont St Michel.

We live a mere three kilometres from La Brenne, a wonderful nature reserve, and regularly host Golden Orioles, Purple Herons and Kingfishers. So why was there no environmental impact study here?

We asked if trees could be replanted and were told that new planting has to be several kilometers from a turbine to avoid birds being caught in the blades. France has lost almost 50% of its birdlife in the past ten years.

Unfortunately the EU’s “care of the landscape” regulation has been lumped with the environment in Hulot’s department, leading to a spectacular conflict of interest. A recent photo showed him balanced high up on a turbine blade, arms outstretched - a man hoisted on the euphoria of his own ideology.

France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity. To replace nuclear power with an intermittent provision over which you have no control seems barmy, or does Hulot think that like Canute, who held back the waves, he can create wind?

There is certainly no shortage of hot air surrounding the industry. Allegations of corruption abound - backhanders paid to officials, local council members with vested interest, vast profits being made by developers. There appears to be little regulation or supervision of the deployment of vast amounts of taxpayers’ money. Meanwhile, our home has lost a great deal of its value.

We certainly need green energy, but informed sources tell me it’s on the way out and that the relentless speed of technological development could make wind turbines obsolete within the next ten years.

Will I see them out? I’ll certainly do my best. But meanwhile, I fear the damage to our beloved France may be irreparable.