Headwinds blowing on Sein

A 100% green island?

A silent war is raging on the island of Sein, part of les Îles du Ponant, between supporters of a 100% green energy and opponents supported by the local energy company EDF.

“Climate change raises the sea level, and here we are directly threatened,” says Serge Coatmeur, lighthouse keeper. He is one of some forty Sénans who want to replace oil, necessary for the operation of the generators of the island with power generated by wind, ocean currents and the sun.

In 2014, “we had five successive storms and sea still nibbled the earth,” says François Spinec, one of the last fishermen of Sein, also favorable. The average elevation of the island rises to … 1.5 meters. To cope with the swell, nearly three kilometers of dikes – as much as the length of confetti – were built. “We can not sit back, we must do something, even at our level it may seem ridiculous,” argues Mr Spinec, his azure eyes.

This awareness has sprouted in 2008 the idea of a wind turbine, a few small turbines and solar panels replacing the three generators burning 420,000 liters of fuel oil per year at a cost of 45 cents kWh which is eight times more than its selling price fixed by regulation to 5 cents. The difference 450,000 euros per year is funded through the contribution to public service electricity (CSPE), a tax levied at national level on electricity bills.

Most of les Îles du Ponant have no grid connected to the mainland. EDF has spent € 1.65 billion in 2014 to buy fuel oil (or coal) to french silands including Corsica and DOM, which is nearly 27% of the revenue of the CSPE – better known as a support for renewable energy.

“The oil will be more expensive in the coming years is catastrophic,” said François Spinec, who with forty Sénans, created in July 2013 the company Ile de Sein energy (IDSE) with the will to make the island a territory powered 100% by green energy, which would be a first in France. The authors of the project, however, denounced the opposition of EDF, who by law has given the exclusivity of the electricity utility on islands not connected to the continental power grid, from production to delivery.

According to EDF one could install one or two wind turbines, covering 40 to 50% of needs, but not more, for the regulation of island territories limited to 30%, due to the risk of failure.

Caution is explained in part by the recent misadventure lived by Quadran group on the island of Miquelon (600), offshore Canada. Early 2014, the 10 wind turbines operated since 2000 by the group had to be removed for economic reasons, and the island is ironed in any thermal via oil-fired plants. The wind farm “has never been allowed to produce at full capacity,” laments Billerey Jérôme, CEO of Quadran.

An island 100% green “this is not possible,” also ensures the current mayor Dominique Salvert during a brief exchange with AFP. “We tend towards more renewable energy we can, but we will never be 100%”, he says.

In the narrow streets of Sein, designed to withstand storms, all eyes are now receding. An amendment supported by MPs but could resurface at high assembly aims to give unconnected islands of less than 2,000 inhabitants – Sein, Mullein, Ushant and Glénans (Finistère) but Chausey (Channel) – the possibility to opt for another operator EDF. This operator could conduct experiments in alternative green energy. He would accept in return the constraints of public service, but would benefit from the CSPE.

“All the island territories should have the right to mount projects of energy independence,” said the Minister of Ecology, Segolene Royal, recently. “We will look,” she added, hinting that she would look into the dream of the islanders to their rock a showcase of the energy transition in France, like the other three have become islands, similar size in Europe: El Hierro (Spain), Eigg (Scotland) and Samso (Denmark).


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