Renewables: how to reconcile climate and biodiversity?

“Wind energy is not ecological (…). It seriously pollutes nature and destroys the natural and built heritage of France”. In a forum of Figaro, on May 30, 2021, the most famous anti-wind turbine, Stéphane Bern, took up an argument well known to detractors of windmills: wind turbines would be ecologically counterproductive because they destroy biodiversity. The argument is also often taken up by opponents of photovoltaics, because of its hold on soils. Between energy transition and protection of nature, should we choose?

Absolutely not answer in heart government, developers… and associations of protection of nature. As long as the projects are well conceived and better planned. Because the development of renewable energies does indeed have a cost for biodiversity.

The establishment of an onshore wind farm can have three impacts on birds or bats, summarizes Ademe, the ecological transition agency: their operation can cause behavioral discomfort, which can have an impact on reproduction, habitat loss, or excess mortality of species. Like many infrastructures, wind turbines are “classified environmental protection installations” (ICPE), subject to enhanced authorization from the prefects. These projects have an obligation to avoid a net loss of biodiversity, through mechanisms of avoidance, reduction of impacts, or even compensation. But this legislation is not enough for the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO), a flagship NGO for the protection of nature in France, alerting to the heterogeneity of situations depending on the location of the parks.

In 2017, the NGO, supported by Ademe, observed a average mortality of 7 birds per year and per wind turbine on a small sample of the French park, with twice as high mortality in parks located near Natura 2000 areas, natural areas with high biodiversity issues. “Under the wind turbines located less than a kilometer from Natura 2000 areas, we are observing bird mortality [ensemble des oiseaux d’un lieu, NDLR] twice as important as elsewhere, especially of endangered species, classified on the IUCN red lists [Union internationale pour la conservation de la nature, NDLR]”, underlines Geoffroy Marx, responsible for the renewable energies and biodiversity program of the LPO.

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Technical innovations

It is in particular to limit these impacts on biodiversity that the Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili presented on Wednesday October 6 ten measures for “responsible development of wind power”. Among them, systematic noise control, or tests to reduce the brightness of parks. The Sources de la Loire park in Ardèche, for example, tests an ignition system only when approaching an airplane or a helicopter. And the players in the sector seem ready to make efforts to better reconcile wind power and biodiversity. They have thus announced the creation of a fund for the protection of natural and cultural heritage of 30 to 40 million euros per year.

“Bird collisions with cars are 200 times greater than with wind turbines,” says Cédric Barbary, head of the biodiversity center of Engie Green. But these impacts are not to be neglected and can be controlled. We stop by example our parks in period of migration, or at night when there is an activity of bats. We are also able to abandon a project if we realize that it will have too many impacts, and 100% of our wind turbines are located outside Natura 2000 areas. ” Engie Green says for example to have abandoned the installation of wind turbines on a site in the Grand Est, after the discovery of raptor nests Royal Milans.

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So regardless of the delays and financial costs? “Beyond the production of electricity, we have an obligation to be exemplary as to the impact of our projects, answers Cédric Barbary. We cannot put a cost in front of biodiversity. The financial argument is less and less hearable. When I ask an operator to stop the blades because there is a migration of birds, I am listened to. ” Engie Green thus devotes 25% of the development time of an Engie Green wind turbine project to biodiversity. “The acceptability measures have a slight additional cost but are the condition for us to be able to develop wind power in France,” adds Nicolas Wolff, president of France Énergie Éolienne, which represents French developer-operators.

Regarding offshore wind power, the problems are similar, observes Ademe, with the exception of the site, the noise of the drilling can greatly disturb marine mammals. “There are bubble curtains that we can put in place around drilling equipment, pierced pipes that form a bubble screen to limit the propagation of sound waves, but the construction phase remains the most difficult to manage”, acknowledges Jean-Marie Parrouffe, head of the networks and renewable energies department at Ademe. And here again, we must take into account the migratory routes. Ademe is currently funding a Météo France project to precisely identify bird migrations using radar, in order to better control power plants at sea and on land.

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Planning required

Despite all these technical innovations, nothing will be more effective than binding planning, taking into account the biodiversity criteria for the LPO, which fights to lodge appeals against all wind turbine projects in natural areas, such as off Oléron. “Yes to the energy transition, but not just anywhere or how”, insists Geoffroy Marx. If Barbara Pompili announced Tuesday, October 6 the creation of a cartography of areas more or less favorable to the installation of wind turbines, the LPO denounces its merely incentive character. And for good reason, in the circular sent to the prefects to ask them to carry out this “non-binding” mapping, it is specified that it “cannot be used as a basis for refusing a project outside an area identified as favorable.”

Each project will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with the best possible compromise between environmental, energy and economic issues … at the risk of seeing infrastructure set up in sensitive natural areas: “I do not Do not mean in principle over an entire area that I refuse wind power, insists Barbara Pompili. There are natural parks with human activity, it must be the same for wind power. “

Reasoned mix

For its part, photovoltaic energy poses a particular problem in terms of its hold over natural soils. If the installation of panels does not involve concreteization (and therefore does not prevent the infiltration of water), a high density of panels can have an impact on flora and fauna. To limit it, Ademe advises, for example, to raise the fences of the park, to let small mammals pass, and to plug the posts well, to prevent animals from getting stuck there. Engie also undertakes not to carry out work in natural areas during the periods of reproduction of the species present. The LPO asks that the establishment of new parks be done only on roofs, or in agrivoltaic: solar panels installed in height, above cultivated fields, making it possible to let the agricultural machinery pass and to protect in at the same time fragile crops such as vines, sensitive to hail and high heat.

For wind power, as for photovoltaics, but also for biomass and the use of forests for firewood, everything is therefore a question of balance and measurement. “Of course we can reconcile renewable energies and biodiversity, we have no choice. But we must take advantage of the diversity of technologies and sites to reduce the impacts. It would be counterproductive to only use wind power. everywhere. Everything is based on the development of a reasoned (and varied) mix of renewable energies “, summarizes Jean-Marie Parrouffe of Ademe.

Source: Challenges en temps réel : accueil by

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