Éoliennes: Quand le vent nous eclaire (Wind Turbines: When the wind lights our way) by Philippe Ollivier

By Paul Gipe

Ollivier is a journalist living in southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillion region, the country’s premier wind resource area. As a journalist, Ollivier is all-too-familiar with the controversy surrounding the development of wind energy by the likes of anti-wind groups such as Vent de Colère, literally “wind rage”.

Éoliennes is not a technical book, nor a how-to book. Eoliennes is about the politics of wind energy, especially the forces opposed to its use. For any student of French politics, renewable energy, and the fault lines in French society between nuclear and renewable advocates, Eoliennes makes an interesting addition to your library.

For example, Ollivier places Jacques Chirac, France’ current president, and those allied with him clearly in the anti-wind camp and explains how his position evolved from the French political context.

Wind proponents in the Anglophone and Germanophone world will find Ollivier’s final chapter most interesting: rumors in the wind (Dans les vent des rumeurs). In this brief chapter he lists some of the more outlandish charges against wind energy. With the power of the internet, these “rumors” spread like wildfire, or in Ollivier’s metaphor, they spread with the wind to all corners of the globe. Here are a few of the rumors that I underscored.

From Brittany, “After a wind turbine was installed near my farm, my pigs turned into cannibals.”

There are numerous variants of this, writes Ollivier, such as, “After a wind turbine was installed near my farm, the milk turned in my cows.”

But the best of all is the one that wind turbines have the power “to put earthworms to sleep.” Ollivier, asks tongue in cheek, just how do you tell an earthworm is sleeping.

Or, equally bizarre, “you’ll go crazy if you watch a wind turbine.” I assume you have to watch one that’s turning or it won’t have the same effect.

While these examples, and there are many more in Ollivier’s book, might seem so off the wall that serious people wouldn’t take further notice, this would be a grave mistake. These rumors, once spread, are powerfully destructive.

Because France is one of the world’s major industrial powers, many may not realize that a large part of its population still leads a rural life. And rural life has a central role in the French psyche. Thus, threats or at least perceived threats to rural life can have severe political repercussions, or worse.

In mid-November 2006, vandals fire-bombed a small wind farm in Languedoc-Roussillion near the village of Roquetailla. The project of Gamesa turbines was developed by Jean-Michel Germa’s Compagnie du Vent in the nearby city of Montpelier. Two turbines were destroyed. To my knowledge, this is the first successful attack on wind turbines. This action was identified as sabotage in the French press in part because it occurred simultaneously with a march of anti-wind demonstrators elsewhere in France.

For this reason, those who study wind energy and its policy implications should make room for Éoliennes on their book shelves.

Éoliennes: Quand le vent nous eclaire, Philippe Ollivier, paper, 112 pages, 15 x 24 cm, ISBN-2-7089-5840-2, Editions Privat, 2006, €10. Editons Privat, 10, rue des Arts, BP 38028-31080 Toulouse Cedex 6, France. +33 05 61 33 77 00; info@editions-privat.com; http://bief.org