Illustration of a windmill (Photo by Xurxo Lobato / Getty Images)


Bird-slaying French wind farm must be demolished, judges rule


A French court has ruled that a controversial seven-turbine wind farm has to be demolished.

The Court of Appeal of Nîmes ruled in favour of environmental associations and local residents, after a long judicial struggle. It agreed with plaintiffs and said the seven turbines at Bernagues in the Grands Causses in Hérault, part of a UNESCO-protected national park, have to go.

If that happens, it would be the first time a French wind farm has been forced to close down by law.

On December 8, the appeals court stated building permission for the plant was obtained despite what was deemed insufficient information,. That resulted in the wind turbines functioning in an unregulated environment and causing damage, particularly to bird wildlife including the rare Golden Eagle.

“The Golden Eagle is unique; this is its territory. It is mainly a fight for biodiversity, and on that point we have been vindicated,” said Marjolaine Villey-Migraine, spokeswoman for the Collectif pour la protection des paysages de la biodiversité 34-12, a collective of 65 organisations.

Only 40 pairs of Golden Eagles are known live in the French Massive Central area, covering 15 per cent of the French mainland.

In January, one was found dead at the Hérault site, apparently struck by a turbine blade. Prior to that, the bodies of a black vulture and hundreds of bats had been discovered.

In 2019 alone, more than 1,000 birds were reportedly found dead at the site. “This is a veritable graveyard at the foot of the wind turbines,” noted the environmental associations’ group lawyer Nicolas Gallon.

Experts estimate that many more thousands of birds have died after being struck by wind-mill blades.

Due to high wildlife mortality, the region’s prefect had ordered the wind turbines to be shut down in 2020.

Local residents also complained about the loud noise made by the wind mills.

The developer ERL-groupe VALECO has 15 months to obey the Nîmes court’s decision and if it fails to do so, it risks a fine of €3,000 per day. Villey-Migraine claimed the seven wind turbines provide a turnover of around €9,000 daily.

Residents living nearby and wildlife organisations have been fighting against the wind turbine project since the plant’s inception in 2003 and have battled it in in court since 2016.

Although there were already two prior rulings against it, the park has continued producing electricity. While the building permit had also already been revoked, new lawsuits had to be filed to obtain the demolition order through various courts, which led to significant delays.

ERL-groupe VALECO is now expected to go the higher Court of Cassation, despite having had its permit revoked there previously.

Villey-Migraine noted: “The manufacturer’s multiple appeals against court notices have enabled them to extend the operational life of their machines almost to the maximum.

“This tactic has resulted in them profiting by thousands of euros per day per wind turbine for over seven years.”