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Pressure mounts against French wind farm project near Belgian coast

Nieuwpoort beach
10:10 05/05/2024

De Panne, Koksijde and Nieuwpoort are the latest communes on the Belgian coast to oppose a French government project to build an offshore wind farm near Dunkirk.

The proposal includes turbines almost as high as the Eiffel Tower: 300 metres above sea level (the Paris icon is 330m).

The French government plans to build the 50 km2 park of 46 wind turbines 10km off the Dunkirk coastline, 11.4km from the Belgian seaside resorts opposing the project.

The farm should produce 2.3 TWh (terawatt/hour) of electricity a year, sufficient for 950,000 households (around a third of the region’s population). The park would be operational from 2028 for 30 years; construction and connection to the grid would cost €1.4 billion.

Subject of a public enquiry until 18 May, there are currently few positive reactions to the proposal. “The wind farm threatens to affect a number of fundamental Belgian interests, including freedom and safety of navigation, air traffic safety, rescue at sea, the marine environment, and the sea view of coastal residents,” North Sea minister Paul Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) said in a press release.

Nieuwpoort mayor Gert Vanden Broucke (CD&V) added that the plan would undoubtedly also affect fishing.

Minister Tigchelt said the turbines, which will be built by French energy firm Eoliennes en Mer de Dunkerque (EMD) and electricity providers, the Réseau de Transport d’Electricité (RTE), would make two historic shipping routes unusable. They include the 170-year Dover to Ostend route.

Ostend port CEO Dirk Declerck agreed, saying that compromising this international route was “out of the question”, adding, “the fact that these routes have not been used since 2013 is not relevant at all... We are in the process of re-establishing a connection.”  

Critics say the planned wind farm, which was approved by the French Council of State last year despite Belgium’s opposition, would also spoil nature. The main impact would be on marine-protected areas located in the French Natura 2000 site ‘Bancs des Flandres’ as well as the Belgian Natura 2000 site ‘Vlaamse Banken’.

The solution in face of the controversy would be to build the wind farm 5km further into the sea, Van Tigchelt said. This would “eliminate almost all objections,” he argued, notably that the wind farm would block beautiful sea views as well as maritime routes.

“The Federal Government will do everything possible to protect the rights of local residents, of Ostend port and of other stakeholders,” he said.

Photo: Nieuwpoort beach

Written by Liz Newmark