Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Windmills on my mind

I find it interesting to see the way that Wind farms and Wind turbines are treated with general antipathy by the British popular press (who presumably reflect the one view of the general UK population) and the way that Wind turbines are appearing with increasing frequency in little communes and towns all across France.

Although France generally has a much higher usage of Nuclear fuel than the UK (see my 2007 blog posting of where does all the French electricity come from) they still face the same sustainability challenges that we have in the UK, and in Brittany in particular the region is a significant net-importer of electricity as there are no major power stations (Nuclear or otherwise) in the region at all.

Over the years that we have been travelling over to France and through Brittany we've seen more little pockets of wind turbines springing up, but since last year there's been a small farm put up about 15km away just outside St Malo-des-Trois-Fontaines (which has to be one of my favourite french placenames - St Malo of the 3 Fountains), and a new farm of 8 turbines is currently being built outside Plumieux which is about 4km from our Gite. In fact when I was out walking the dog one day I first noticed the new poles for the turbines from the top of the hill above our Gite, so next time we were out in the car decided to pop in to go and take a look at them under construction.

It's only when you get up close to the Wind turbine do you realise how absolutely massive they are. From a distance yes they look tall, but when you are standing in the middle of a corn field surrounded by tall cranes and a kit of parts to make the turbine, do you then realise the size and scale. If you look at the pictures of the rotor head and the wind turbine blades that have Jack standing next to them can you see that the blades are about 2m in width where they join onto the rotor head.

The wind turbines were all pre-fabricated in sections, each part then sealed at the end to prevent dust and dirt getting in, and then shipped to site for assembly in what looks like a giant meccano kit. All the sections are basically bolted together, although as you can see from the ends of the windmill blades, there are an awful lot of bolts to do up !

The blades themselves must be 30 or so metres long and what surprised me at the time was how flexible they were. Standing at the end of one of the blades you could literally "twang it" with your hand and the whole blade would flex back and forth. They must be made of some kind of fibre-glass type flexible construction and are not rigid metal I guess so that changes and turbulence on the wind doesn't cause unnecessary stresses and strains. Immensely strong though to take the pressure of a strong wind blowing against them.

Partially built windmill waiting for its blades

Sections of the tower ready for erection

Wind turbine blades ready for installation

Main turbine blade head

Gears and cogs to enable the turbine rotor head to go rotate

Liz of course couldn't resist the "holding the windmill" up picture ...
Holding up the windmill tower

I took all of the above photos when we were over at the Gite in August and the top-most picture was the most complete windmill. Most of the rest of the 7 were little more than a few sections on the ground. When I was over in Brittany last week in November and took this photo, all bar one of the windmills were complete, turning, and generating electricity for the local commune.

3 months later all but one of the windmills built

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