Civic and community participation in large-scale energy projects

Participants à une réunion d'information des Cigales pour le parc éolien du Mené
Published by Yannick Régnier on 11/08/2011
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The movement to return the generation, distribution and management of energy to democratic ownership, initiated by local communities and civic participation, is an issue of fundamental importance. Energy projects in public or civic ownership are emerging as a result of the empowerment of local individuals, associations and politicians, all keen to participate in the energy policies of their localities. They have to be able to demonstrate their: local roots, non-speculative intentions, good governance and respect for the environment.

This summary is the culmination of a technical workshop that took place within the context of the first Energy and Rural Region Meetings organised locally by the Community of Municipalities of the Mené (22) and held on 15-18 June 2011. These meetings were attended by more than 300 people, while the workshop on civic investment attracted 100 attendees.

Speakers:

  • Christel Sauvage, Chair of Enercoop Ardennes-Champagne and the association Énergie Partagée
  • Pierre Jourdain, head of the development of civic wind turbine projects at Éoliennes en Pays de Vilaine
  • Patrick Villalon, head of the energy and environment service of the syndicat départemental d'énergie de la Vendée (SyDEV)
  • Gilles Aignel and Gilles Rault, managers of CIMES1, local investment agency of the Mené region
  • Dominique Ramard, a regional councillor in Brittany with responsibility for energy

Chaired by Yannick Régnier, Operations Manager, Local Energy Policies at CLER
[Note: this report does not include Patrick Villalon's (solely oral) contribution. For more information on the SyDEV's activities, see this dedicated article.]

CITÉOL MENÉ

Already familiar with the visual presence of wind turbines, since the Trébry wind farm runs along the ridge that extends into their region, the people of the Community of Municipalities of the Mené (22) instigated a civic-based process with a view to invest (financially and in terms of time and effort) in the participatory Landes du Mené wind turbine project. This venture, currently nearing completion, comprises seven 850 kW turbines outputting a total of 5.6 MW and offering an anticipated yearly output of 15,000 MWh (equivalent to the electricity needs of 15,000 residents, excluding heating).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4PLNpNrTiU

To facilitate the project, the residents established a novel organisation based on what are known as cigales – investment clubs providing alternative local management of solidarity-based saving. "The idea is, eventually, to bring together some six or seven cigale clubs amounting to 120 people, with each person contributing an average of between EUR 3000 and 4000", explains Gilles Aignel, co-manager of the CIMES1 cigale, the first such grouping to be formed to launch the process. A local savings plan totalling EUR 450,000 will allow them to purchase a 30% stake in Citéol Mené, the company established to develop the project. Power utility Idex, a familiar name in the region owing to its involvement in the Géotexia project, has contributed the balance of 70% towards developing the project, together with its technical expertise [note: Idex has since transferred its stake to Oxyan Energies]. "When the project started, Idex had in mind civic participation to the tune of 5%, but the residents wanted more," recalls Gilles Aignel. "This 30:70 ratio made for a more balanced relationship between the two parties." To ensure a continuance of good relations, the two sides signed a shareholder accord.

 

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 Financing structure of the Landes du Mené project

What prompted this act of civic participation? As you might expect, the prospect of benefiting from an attractive financial return helped motivate the residents. Even so, a wind turbine project is quite different from a simple banking investment: in particular, it involves the kind of risk associated with all projects of an industrial nature. The key motivation of these civic cigale investors is not so much to make a profit, but to invest in their locality and participate in developing it by leveraging an existing potential. Investors are also attracted to the idea of involvement in a process linked to the solidarity-based economy and part of the renewable energy movement.

Download the presentation by Gilles Aignel and Gilles Rault

EOLIENNES EN PAYS DE VILAINE

The association Eoliennes en Pays de Vilaine (EPV) has even loftier ambitions when it comes to the Béganne civic wind farm (56). This project is the outcome of a threefold aim: to develop renewable energy, to create local wealth, and to bring about changes in the way energy is used. The idea is to create a cooperative-based wind farm with an educational dimension, one that stems from proactive local interest rather than passive acceptance.

The project has led to the formation of Site à Watts S.A.R.L., a company reliant on venture capital funding with the purpose of facilitating the project's development. The company exhibits two characteristics: one, it calls on input from collective skill sets, on volunteers, on working people and on external consultancies; and two, it relies on multi-stakeholder funding involving the EPV association, subscribers, cigale investment clubs and the ENEE 44 public-private partnership (80% owned by the Département of Loire Atlantique). Direct backing for the development has meant an in-depth technical appraisal could take place to ensure local and total control of the project; it will also lead to higher financial returns.

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 Photomontage of the Béganne wind farm – (c) Eoliennes en Pays de Vilaine

Experience gleaned from this pilot project has shown that, when it comes to projects involving civic participation, models combining financial and technical elements with a civic dimension within an adapted legal framework are not yet available off the shelf: generally speaking, they still need creating from the ground up. Now that, finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Béganne project, its promoters have set up a new company, Site à Watts Développement, to capitalise on the skills acquired in terms of wind turbine development and exploitation, and legal and financial engineering.

The EPV association's experience bears this out: its work relies on the single-minded devotion of a handful of people over a long period of time. It will have taken more than eight years to firm up the Béganne wind farm; four sites had to be proposed before one could be finally earmarked, and so on. It is enough to discourage anyone but the most determined. From now on, the challenge consists of producing a model capable of facilitating the spread of energy projects with a participatory civic dimension. That is exactly what the Energie Partagée [Shared Energy] association is aiming to do. It was brought into being at a national level by parties working in the field of renewable energy, including the EPV association and Enercoop Ardennes-Champagne, and solidarity-based funding. Before returning to Energie Partagée, let us take a little detour through the Ardennes.

Download the presentation by Pierre Jourdain

ENERCOOP ARDENNES-CHAMPAGNE

Enercoop Ardennes-Champagne is an energy generation and services cooperative established at the instigation of local movers and shakers from the Community of Municipalities of the Crêtes Préardennaises. It was established in response to the surge in wind turbine development in the region that involved very little local or civic participation – the idea being that local resources need, above all, to be managed and exploited for local needs in the interests of fairness and respect for the environment.

Enercoop Ardennes-Champagne is a société coopérative d'intérêt collectif (SCIC), a community-oriented cooperative enterprise comprising 150 members, of which 4 are communities and 12 corporate entities. It has a variable capital stock of EUR 85,000 and employs a staff of three. In legal terms, an SCIC functions according to co-operative 'one man, one vote' principles, promotes collective values, and embraces a social dimension. Broadly speaking, it facilitates partnerships involving voluntary stakeholders.

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Photovoltaic array at Attigny (08) - (c) Enercoop Ardennes-Champagne

The projects developed by the cooperative are increasingly in need of investment: EUR 34,000 (followed by EUR 340,000) for photovoltaic installations; EUR 800,000 for a micro hydroelectric power installation; EUR 1,880,000 for a biogas production facility; and… EUR 26,000,000 for a wind farm! As this level of investment was too onerous for the cooperative to contemplate bearing on its own, it considered an offre au public de titres financiers (OPTF) – an offer of securities to the public. This option, however, comes with strings attached, one of which is the requirement to obtain a licence from the French Financial Markets Authority (AMF) – a process that is onerous, complex and costly.

Download the presentation by Christel Sauvage

ENERGIE PARTAGÉE

It was this that led the Energie Partagée association to create a technical investment instrument called Energie Partagée Investissement (EPI). EPI has the legal status of a partnership limited by shares, which allows it to gather investments by individuals placed in local projects focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Regrettably, the mutualisation of means does not mean the absence of red tape: although it submitted a request several months ago, as at the end of June 2011 EPI had still not received its long-awaited licence from the AMF…

Despite this, Energie Partagée is pushing on with its awareness-raising campaign and information gathering and processing. The association has made a proposal regarding the definition of a civic agenda and drafted the movement's charter. It has now begun drawing up an inventory of similar initiatives at a national level.

Download the presentation by Christel Sauvage

INITIATIVES IN BRITTANY

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At the same time as these activities at a national level, a number of regions are doing their bit. One of them is Brittany. Keen to be involved in the funding of highly innovative renewable energy projects (particularly in the absence of interest from private enterprise), it is currently in the throes of establishing a dedicated investment agency in the form of a simplified limited company called Eilan. This will operate as a minority co-funder of projects with the aim of providing a financial lever and mediating between public and private stakeholders involved or affected by the projects. The initial capital of EUR 8 million injected into Eilan comes from: the region of Brittany via its public-private SEMAEB venture (EUR 2 million); the French Caisse des Dépôts deposit fund (EUR 2 million); plus other financial institutions and utility companies (EUR 4 million). The business plan is predicated on investing EUR 8 million over five years in the development of eight methanisation (anaerobic digestion) plants (total investment EUR 48 million) and three wind farms (EUR 54 million).

Download the presentation by Dominique Ramard

We look forward to the civic EnR network in Brittany promoting the spread of projects with exchanges of best practice and regional cooperation based on the initiatives achieved in the region (e.g. Béganne, Landes du Mené) and, beyond that, on tools made available at a national level (in particular through the Energie Partagée association) and on the support of institutional players such as France's regions and départements, and the French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME).

Yannick Régnier, CLER
June 2011