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Wind farm in the bay of Saint-Brieuc: the boss of Iberdrola believes it firmly [Exclusif] – Wind farm in the bay of Saint-Brieuc: years of tension

Nine years have passed since Ailes Marines signed the contract. Did you think then that the work would take so long to start?

It should be remembered that when we won this contract in 2012, the offshore wind sector in France was still in its infancy. And all the information we had to acquire, everything we had to discuss, everything was new, for everyone. It’s part of learning. But Iberdrola has a long-term vision. We come to this country not to set up a project, but to develop a sector of activity there over decades. So there is nothing wrong with it taking time. What is important is what results. And what results is that we are building something fantastic, which helps France’s strategic ambitions.

Did it also take so long with your other projects?

No, not so much (smile). But it took some too. We have always encountered, each time, fairly identical issues. The way it turned out is no surprise to us. And this is not specific to Iberdrola. EDF may have encountered the same obstacles or reservations elsewhere … Now, we can hope that, in the future, the projects that we may have will be more quickly completed.

The offshore wind turbines of the German Wikinger park, in the Baltic Sea, foreshadow what will be the wind farm in the bay of Saint-Brieuc in 2023. (Archives Le Télégramme / Julien Molla)

Are you talking about the future wind farm off the Normandy coast?

Yes we would love to build this project. We have positioned ourselves and the answer fell this week. We are obviously happy to be among the finalists of this call for tenders and we will do everything possible to secure this market.

Iberdrola has grown a lot over the past ten years, in North America and around the globe. For you, is this project in the bay of Saint-Brieuc still as important as it was eight years ago?

Of course ! First, there is an investment of 2.4 billion euros. And that’s just the first step in a bigger project. We are aiming for more. Not only to confine ourselves to the offshore but also to land, wind or solar installations (…). France remains an attractive market. From a macroeconomic point of view, from a climate change point of view, I think the country is on a good track and we would be happy to help France on the path of decarbonising its economy, while creating wealth and jobs.

People are expressing their concerns. How do you understand them?

I know that the vast majority of people, in France and in the region, are receptive to what we do. There have been some opinion polls done and over 80% of people surveyed agree with this. We take the interactions we can have with people very seriously.

Afterwards, we understand that there may be expressed oppositions. Or that professional fishermen are worried. We are very sensitive to this and we will continue to do everything possible to alleviate and respond to these concerns.

And what do you say to them?

That if we compare with any project we have had to carry out, in any country, the fishermen of the bay of Saint-Brieuc had more impact on the genesis of this project than anywhere else elsewhere. And I’m not saying that in a negative way. From the start, we agreed to review our implantation techniques, because we understood the impact that this could have. We agreed to bury 100% of the cables. And we did it voluntarily, listening to what the fishermen were telling us. We have reviewed the calendars, even though we have very large boats that have been waiting for quite a while now. We waited until the end of the scallop fishing season.

And we won’t go to the southern zone this year, so they can work there until the end of the year. We understand that our work can impact the activity this year and the year to come. This is also why we compensate local activity up to 10 million euros. But I am sure that at the end of the work, the fishermen will be able to resume what they did in the past. And that coexistence will be possible, in good neighborliness.

Looking back, would you make the same technical choice today. Why not floating wind turbines?

Floating wind turbines are designed to operate above a certain depth. This is not the case with the bay of Saint-Brieuc. For a fairly long period of time, fixed locations will remain the preferred alternative near the coast. But in the long term, 2050 and beyond, it will depend on the decarbonisation effort. For me, it will continue to go through wind and we will then have to move further out at sea. There, the floating will become dominant. And it will be, again, a great opportunity for France and Brittany.

The fishermen have announced actions at sea in the coming days. Are you worried about this?

Our primary concern is the safety of all. From our employees, our subcontractors, everyone. Including fishermen. We have very regular exchanges with the French authorities. And we are confident that they will take the necessary steps to ensure everyone’s safety. We hope to be able to work in a peaceful atmosphere and we obviously call for calm and reason. We will not do anything that will fuel the fire and endanger the safety of people.

Wind farm in the bay of Saint-Brieuc: the boss of Iberdrola believes it firmly [Exclusif] – Wind farm in the bay of Saint-Brieuc: years of tension
In May 2020, fishing boats demonstrated around the Geo Ocean IV sounder boat in the bay of Saint-Brieuc to protest against the installation of wind turbines at sea. (Archives Le Télégramme / Lionel Le Saux)

Finally, coming to the bay of Saint-Brieuc always seems worth it?

What we face today is perhaps the most critical thing humanity has ever faced: we need to respond to climate change. To try to avoid catastrophic damage. We must not be distracted from this goal. And there are also hundreds of thousands of jobs, direct and indirect, at stake. So yes, it’s always worth getting into this type of project!

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