Eight years ago, when I was studying abroad in Paris, I took a weekend trip to Mont St. Michel, the gorgeous abbey/fortress on the English Channel which straddles the regions of Normandy and Brittany. The train ride from Paris, through the Norman countryside, revealed a charming picture of French provincial life: petite farms, fields of rapeseed, and real, working windmills dotting the landscape. I had never seen an old-fashioned windmill like that, unless you count the one on the roof of the Moulin Rouge – I don’t – so I felt a little bit like Don Quixote, in awe of the strange giants on the horizon.
Fast forward to 2010, when I first began my year teaching English in Rouen. The woman in charge of my stay in France had a house in Sotteville-sur-Mer, a tiny town on the northern coast (as its name suggests). My very first weekend, she brought me to her house. As we drove through the French countryside, I was once again transfixed by the giants along the winding roads of upper Normandy. But these weren’t your ordinary moulins. These were éoliennes, wind turbines. They’re quite impressive, particularly on the plains of Normandy, where the roads twist straight through mini wind farms.
I don’t remember seeing any ordinary windmills while I was in France last year, but I didn’t take a single train trip anywhere without seeing an éolienne or two (or 30!) France is well-known for getting the majority of its electrical power from nuclear plants, and the current crop of French wind turbines only account for about 2% of their energy. The French are eager to lessen their dependence on nuclear power and have proposed plans for off-shore wind farms in northern France. As in the United States, this idea is controversial. Possible locations include sites not far from the D-Day beaches, and opponents argue that the turbines will disturb the peace and beauty of the memorial sites. I don’t agree. For starters, I like wind turbines. I think they’re impressive to look at. I understand that up close they make a good amount of noise, but I can’t see that that will be a problem off shore. I also can’t imagine that the soldiers buried at the D-Day memorials would be against the idea of renewable energy. They died to protect France, and the world, from human forces that were on course to self-destruct. Isn’t that what wind power is doing for us now?
The French word, éolienne, is based on Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind. Gods, soldiers, giants… I guess Don Quixote had it right all along.