The development of wind farms is often a topic for debate in Greece, with misleading information about the issue frequently spreading on social networks. The unfounded narrative that areas are deliberately burned down so that wind turbines can be installed is widespread. As fires swept through parts of Greece in 2023, social media posts claimed to show that wind turbines had been built on an area of the island of Evia that had been burnt in 2021. The false claim has been shared over 900 times since July 2023. However, the photo used as evidence shows wind turbines in Spain, not Greece. Data from the Greek Waste, Energy and Water Regulatory Authority (RAΑEY) indicates that no wind turbines have been built in northern Evia since it was devastated by the 2021 fires. The licence for a wind farm in that area was in fact revoked after the fires. Evia does have a large number of wind farms in the south, but these were installed before the 2021 fires.
“Photo after the big fire in Evia, in the burnt areas, wind turbines have entered the burnt areas,” reads a photo posted by a user on Facebook on September 11, 2023. The image shows a row of wind turbines on a hillside.
The same image with the same text has been circulating on Facebook in Greece since July 2023, including here and here. A July 20 Facebook post reads: “Since last year’s fires in Evia, wind turbines have miraculously sprung up. I just wanted to know now, where are the environmentalists?”
The posts either have no date for the Evia fire or refer to fires there in 2022; however, there were no major forest fires on Evia in 2022. The fires that hit Greece in 2022 were in other locations, such as on the island of Lesbos or in the Evros region in the north. Major fires hit Evia in 2021, ravaging the north of the island.
Screenshots taken 02/10/2023 of the false Facebook posts posted in July and September 2023
The 2021 Evia fires took place during the peak of a heatwave and scientists have warned that extreme weather could make such fires increasingly common.
The false claims began circulating as Greece was hit by more wildfires during another heatwave in July 2023, including on the island of Rhodes where thousands of people were evacuated. In August, a forest fire north of the city of Alexandroupoli was declared the largest-ever wildfire recorded in the European Union, as AFP reported here. At least 20 people, including 18 migrants, died in the inferno.
The fires of summer 2023 saw a surge of misinformation against migrants, holding them responsible for the fires in the Evros region but without evidence.
Wind turbines in Catalonia
A reverse image search showed that the photo used in the false claims has been circulating online since 2009, as shown in results from the site TinEye. The results did not give information about the location of the turbines.
However, we found similar images on the page “wind-turbine-models.com” which features a large photo album showing numerous types of wind turbines.
One of these photographs features a number of details similar to those visible in the photo shared on social networks, as shown below:
Screenshots taken on 02/10/2023 of the falsely used photo in the Facebook posts (left) and the picture of wind-turbine-models.com (right). Red cross as well as yellow circles and squares were added by AFP
Circled in yellow, the same ruin can be seen on the left of the image, as well as a white box on the right and, in the yellow square, the same hill crest. The caption indicates that this is the “Parque eolico Pebesa (Baix Ebre)” wind farm and that it is located in “Tortosa, Catalonia, Spain”.
It’s also possible to see a similar view on the road leading to the Baix Ebre wind farm, located in the Serres de Cardó-el Boix region of Spain, on Google Street view, and notice the same ruin and white box, as circled in yellow in the screenshot below:
Screenshot made from Google Street view. Yellow circles were added by AFP. Image capture: 04/10/2023
Withdrawal of wind turbine licences in burnt-out areas of Evia
The fires in Evia in 2021 consumed around 50,000 hectares of the north of the island of Evia. Satellite photos from the European Space Agency (ESA), Copernicus, show the extent of the destruction (archived here and here).
Satellite image from Copernicus Sentinel-2 showing the before and after the fires in northern Evia in 2021. Images downloaded on 03/10/2023 from the European Union’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery ( EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY)
The Facebook posts and users commenting on them claim that it is in these areas that the wind turbines have “entered”.
A map can be consulted on the Waste, Energy and Water Regulatory Authority (RAΑEY) website showing the data and location of current operational wind farms, licences granted for future wind farms, and licences rejected by the energy regulator all over Greece as of October 4, 2023.
According to this map, there are no operational wind turbines in areas affected by fires in 2021 in Evia. Some licences for the area show as “rejected”, signalled by the red dots on the map. There are therefore no active wind turbines or licences granted in this area, as shown in the screenshot below:
Screenshot taken on 03/10/2023 of the RAE map, showing the north part of Evia island (left) and a screenshot of the satellite image of ESA’s Copernicus satellite (right), showing the burnt areas of Evia
According to documents available on the RAΑEY website (archived here), a licence for the construction of wind turbines (a power generation licence) was granted for Mount Telethrio in northern Evia on July 15, 2021 (archived here and here), prior to the August 2021 fires in northern Evia.
However, this permission was criticised after the fires and former Minister of the Environment and Energy, Kostas Skrekas, called on RAΑEY to revoke it.
In a decision dated October 27, 2021 (downloadable here), RAΑEY revoked the licence to develop a wind farm on Mount Telethrio citing “overriding and imperative public interest” in the reconstruction of the region. Hence the sites are marked in red on the RAAEY map (archived here and here).
RAAEY confirmed to AFP by telephone on October 10, 2023, that no wind turbines were operating in the north of Evia and no licences had been granted to develop wind farms there.
The authority also confirmed that the licence for Mount Telethrio had been granted in July 2021, before being revoked in October 2021.
Evia does, however, have a large number of active wind farms and several licences for future wind farms outside the area hit by fires in 2021, particularly in the south of the island. On the RAAEY map below, working turbines are coloured in dark teal and licences granted in green:
Screenshot of the RAE map (03/10/2023) showing the south part of Evia island
Contacted by AFP on October 2, a press officer from the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) confirmed by phone that no wind turbines had been built or licences granted in the burnt areas of northern Evia.
The HOS is critical of new wind farm projects throughout Greece, considering that wind turbines are a danger to birdlife in some areas.
“We keep a watch on multiple regions in Greece in relation to the granting of licences for the construction of wind turbines and have not noticed, according to RAΑEY or Ministry of Environment data, any licences granted in northern Evia,” the representative said.
Wind turbine construction licences withdrawn in Evros
On September 25, the HOS published a statement on its website denouncing wind turbine construction permits in the burnt NATURA zones of Dadia National Park in northern Greece.
Following this announcement, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis stated that these licences had been granted before the fires destroyed the forest. The Ministry of Environment and Energy subsequently announced on September 27 that it was “suspending economic activities in the Evros forest area affected by the fires”, putting on hold for one year the licences already granted to build wind farms.