ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Today is the anniversary of D-Day. And in France, thousands of people are gathering on the coast of Normandy to commemorate the Allied invasion that liberated Europe from the Nazis. But a new, very different battle is also underway there. A planned offshore wind turbine project is not sitting well with the many people who consider Normandy's beaches sacred.
NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Normandy and sent this report.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND FIREWORKS)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Music accompanies a fireworks display set off behind an old German gun battery overlooking Omaha Beach. Next year, on the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion, work is set to begin on a windmill park off this very coast. Seventy-five wind turbines, the closest of which will be six miles from shore.
AMAURY DE LENCQUESAING: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: The wind is whipping high on a bluff above the British landing beach of Arromanches, where the hastily constructed landing harbor is still intact. Environmental activist Amaury de Lencquesaing opposes the windmill project. He points out just beyond the Mulberry Harbor, where he says the windmills will be visible on a clear day.
LENCQUESAING: (Through Translator) Erecting an industrial wind park is not compatible with this historic place. Along these 10 kilometers of coast, thousands of soldiers came to liberate us. And for many, it's their final resting place. Now, 70 years later, in the name of the environment we are dishonoring their memory.
BEARDSLEY: The wind park will be built by a German-Danish-French consortium led by French state electricity provider, EDF. Bernard Guitton is the project director. He says the wind park is part of a larger plan to move France away from its heavy reliance on nuclear energy. It's also part of a commitment France made to the European Union to increase its share of electricity generated by renewable energy.
BERNARD GUITTON: To build around year 2020, 6,000 megawatts along French coasts. Second is also to create an offshore industry in France.
BEARDSLEY: And that will bring jobs, says Guitton. He says the project did take into account the landing beaches and he doesn't believe they will be negatively impacted. The windmills will be a full 16 miles out from Omaha Beach, he says.
JEAN-LOUIS BUTRE: They buy people.
BEARDSLEY: That's Jean-Louis Butre, who heads a grouping of 780 associations fighting wind turbines in France. Butre says not only do the windmills desecrate the D-Day beaches, but they cost a lot of money and will even raise the price of electricity.
BUTRE: It's a difficult fight because, you know, we are citizens. We are not working with lobbies. But in front of us, we have a fantastic amount of industry - money, lobbies, politicians. I don't know who's going to win but we're going to fight.
BEARDSLEY: Two years ago, Butre's group succeeded in getting a windmill park at the famous Mont Saint Michel monastery pushed much farther back.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
BEARDSLEY: This time of year, the little towns and beaches along the D-Day coast are thriving with school groups, tourists and festivities. But much of the year they're empty. Most people living here feel the employment and activity generated by the wind park would be a good thing.
ANDY GREENWOOD: Nah.
BEARDSLEY: But visiting Briton, Andy Greenwood and his friends don't agree.
GREENWOOD: The French, they're very respectful of the past. I'm surprised that they're thinking of doing something like that for this stretch of ocean. What they've got here is history.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: So it's kind of special. Yeah, it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's a museum.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, it is.
GREENWOOD: The whole area is a museum.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BEARDSLEY: Music from the war era plays out of a loudspeaker in the streets of Arromanches. Ninety-year-old British veteran Dennis Stuthridge wears a string of medals across his uniform.
DENNIS STUTHRIDGE: North Africa, Italy, Burma...
BEARDSLEY: So what does he think about the wind park?
STUTHRIDGE: No problem. To me, it'd be no problem. Progress. Progress, isn't it?
BEARDSLEY: So you can honor history and still move on?
STUTHRIDGE: Of course, you can. You have to. Everything has got to move on. Yeah. Yeah, no problem at all.
BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, at the D-Day beaches in Normandy.