A storm is raging over whether it is appropriate to install 75 wind turbines at the 450MW Courseulles-sur-Mer project, 10 kilometres off the Normandy coast and within view of memorial sites commemorating the D-Day landings during World War II.
This is one of the most sensitive aspects of the project, says Claude Brévan, president of the special commission that was set up as an independent body to run the public debate in Normandy. It is canvassing opinion from British and Canadian war veteran groups.
Among those against is John Phipps, chairman of D-Day Revisited, which organises visits for British veterans. "The veterans view the idea of a coastal development of wind turbines unthinkable, and assume that sense will prevail to cause the structures to be moved further along the coast," he says. "It is about looking out to sea from France, and it is also about approaching the coast on the ferry from England." If the decision goes against them, however, "I don't think you will see them marching in the streets in protest", Phipps added.
More worrying is the stance of the Fédération Environnement Durable (FED), an umbrella group opposed to industrial-scale wind power, which has already derailed a number of onshore projects. The proposed offshore wind farm is "a sacrilege for the families of 10,000 soldiers from all over the world who sacrificed their lives on this spot to save France from tyranny", asserts chairman Jean-Louis Butré.
The French government is keen to push ahead with the 450MW project, which has overwhelming political and popular support in lower Normandy. But with the 70th anniversary of the landing next year and many veterans now in their 90s, the development has sparked an understandably emotional response.
Don Cooper, president of the Juno Beach Centre Association, responsible for a Canadian memorial, is less troubled by the development. "The negative impact on the beaches is tolerable. It is a necessary evolution in the modern world," he says.
Adrian Cox, a British-born local councillor who works with many veterans, broadly agrees. "In my experience, most veterans are not against, and those who are appear to have been taken in by false information," he says, referring to an often-voiced fear that the turbines will actually be built on the beaches rather than 10 kilometres out to sea. While noting that "it is a very special place, a nice place not to put a wind farm", Cox points out that many structures have already been built along the beaches without raising an outcry.
Developer Eolien Maritime France (EMF), a consortium of EDF Energies Nouvelles and Dong Energy, argues that the site, which was selected by the government after broad consultation, is located well away from the WWII conflict zone.
The project's planned footprint has already been reduced by 35% to lower the visual impact from the landing beaches. EMF says it is "willing to respect the memorial sites and wants to be involved with local initiatives to continue to keep the memory of the landings alive".
The public debate will continue until the end of 20 July, with EMF due to make its final investment decision in 2015.