French fisherman have declared that they would rather die fighting than allow an approved offshore wind farm to be built off Brittany, and have vowed to take direct action to prevent construction. The Saint-Brieuc offshore wind farm is a 496 megawatt project due to begin construction in the spring. The wind farm poses a threat to the livelihoods of local fishermen by destroying a prolific and sustainable scallop bed. According to the fishermen, the project does not respect the sea and seafarers.
The developer, Ailes Marines—a company wholly owned by Spanish wind firm Iberdrola—was awarded the project in a French government tender in 2012, but the award was contested by an environmental protection association and a rival company. In 2019, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s supreme administrative court allowed the project to proceed, ruling that criticism regarding the legality of Ailes Marines’ operating license was unfounded.
A final investment decision to develop Saint-Brieuc was made by Iberdrola in early March after it acquired 100 percent ownership of Ailes Marines. Turbine OEM Siemens Gamesa will supply 62 of its SG 8.0-167 DD turbines for the project from a new factory in Le Havre. The project will cost €2.4 billion ($2.72 billion).
The Saint-Brieuc Project
Changes were made to the original tender offered by the French government to alleviate issues raised by local fishermen. The 180 square kilometer area that the French government put out to tender in 2011 was reduced to 75 square kilometers to minimize the visual impact and reduce its effect on the commercial harvesting of scallops. The developer avoided the main scallop deposit located in the southern part of the tender area by choosing to locate the project 6 kilometers north on part of a secondary scallop deposit called Gisement du Large.
Ailes Marines completed an impact study for the project between 2012 and 2015. Since then, environmental follow-ups at sea and on land were performed. The company did not find coral presence on the 75 square kilometer site area of the offshore wind farm based on the scientific data and inventories they used. They stated that preliminary results from several large-scale studies “show that the effects of the foundation pile installation works are compatible with the normal life cycle of the species studied, in particular scallops, prawns and cuttlefish”.
But, according to local fishermen, more analysis needs to be done. A local newspaper warned that “the situation could become tense in the coming weeks”, following an incident in May when 60 fishing boats prevented a vessel from carrying out surveys related to the project.
The fishermen’s association from the nearby British island of Jersey is supporting their French counterparts’ opposition to Saint-Brieuc, arguing that the project would push French fishing boats out of their territorial waters and into UK waters. The dispute comes at a time of tensions between Britain and France over fishing rights as the UK wants to restrict access to its waters. The European Union has demanded the UK continues to allow European vessels access to UK fishing grounds while French fishermen have warned they will not accept being locked out of UK waters. By potentially placing rich fishing areas in jeopardy, offshore wind projects may be creating friction among fishermen of various nations all fighting to make a living.
U.S. Fishermen Fight Offshore Wind
U.S. fishermen from the Carolinas to Maine are concerned about the effect offshore wind will have on commercial and recreational fishing. As a result, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) drafted a supplemental environmental review for an offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts that indicates that offshore wind farms could have a major “adverse” impact on commercial fisheries.
The study notes that offshore wind could result in major cumulative impacts to commercial and recreational fishing, scientific research, and in some cases environmental justice. The study also notes concern that offshore wind turbines and transmission cables could entangle with fishing vessels and gear, and that wind farms could result in the temporary or permanent displacement of fishermen in certain areas. According to the document, the Vineyard Wind project and “other future offshore wind development would impact commercial fishing revenue,” with potential losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to the millions. A final decision will be made at the end of the year after public comment.
Offshore Wind Expectations in France
Early offshore wind projects in France have suffered regulatory delays. A 480 megawatt project, the Saint-Nazaire project, is due to enter service in 2022. The French government has improved the regulatory framework and competitive tendering process and is looking to develop between 5.2 gigawatts and 6.2 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2028, including floating as well as fixed-bottom projects.
The French government passed legislation to improve the tendering process and some of those changes were implemented for the tender process for a 600 megawatt wind farm off Dunkirk in northern France that was held last year. The improved tender process is in effect for:
- A one gigawatt fixed-bottom Normandy tender
- A 250 megawatt floating wind farm off Brittany planned for 2021
- Two 250 megawatt auctions planned for 2022 in the Mediterranean Sea
- A one gigawatt bottom-fixed wind farm off the southern Atlantic coast scheduled to be tendered next year or in 2022, and
- A 1 gigawatt fixed offshore wind farm at a yet-undisclosed location in 2023.
Fishermen fear that offshore wind will pose a problem for their livelihoods and want governments to study the problem before approving massive wind farms that would harm their industry. Offshore wind has been delayed in France due to regulatory delays and the U.S. is studying the impact of wind farms on the commercial and recreational fishing industries. It is clear that as wind expands to consume more and more of the offshore areas in the oceans, conflicts will only grow.