Created in 2003, the EPV association is focused on producing locally-produced renewable energy and reducing energy consumption. Its guiding principles of the last 20 years have been increasing local energy production as well as local income, benefits and job creation, and managing local production.
The project has grown from a wind turbine project based around a few villages in the rural area of Redon Agglomération (South Britanny, 80,000 inhabitants). It was the first project in France financed and managed by local citizens. Financing proved challenging from the start - banks were reluctant to help but regional and local authorities were positive about the initiative and lent their support.
Fast forward to 2022, and now three wind farms with 13 turbines in total (2 MW each) produce about 25% of the region’s electricity consumption.
Two new projects are currently under development, as well as solar energy projects. Wood and biomass production units are also being investigated to provide a balanced energy mix. Local volunteer members, representing stakeholders including citizens, local authorities, municipalities, the citizen investment fund for renewable energies, and local third sector companies, form independent cooperatives that oversee the installation and management of the production units.
Investors participate directly in the governance board, according to the cooperative principle of one person, one vote. The energy produced feeds into the National Grid and a feed-in tariff has been guaranteed through contracts with EDF or ENERCOOP, a provider of 100% renewable energy, for 15 years.
EPV staff hold regular activities, including workshops, information meetings, school class activities, and other interactive events for citizens who have invested in or live near the different production units. The wind farm cooperatives finance the salaries of the staff who deliver these activities. The cooperatives also finance activities such as a car-sharing scheme, group purchasing of e-bikes, and installation and maintenance of solar panels for the local community.
To showcase the success of EPV and spread best practice guidance, two regional networks were created, supporting about 80 citizen and community projects in renewable energies. EPV also co-created a national network (Energie Partagée) working on a national basis.
EPV’s business model is sustainable, and its success is based on a conservative estimation of the production potential (wind) as well as a guaranteed feed-in tariff for 15 years. Dividends are paid to the investors from five years after production started and the business plan allows for the creation of reserves to reimburse citizen investments, as well as the costs of the decommissioning of the wind farms at the end of their life.
EPV’s experience demonstrates that citizen engagement can facilitate renewable energy projects (particularly wind farms), as it thoroughly addresses concerns expressed by the inhabitants living near the proposed future installations. Frequent public meetings and monitoring commissions with participation of local inhabitants during the development and operational phase allow for developing citizen engagement and improving general acceptance of new projects.
Best practices include dialogue, contact and communication with people who will be affected by new projects. Increasing the dissemination of information and building trust between citizens and project owners creates a positive attitude to participation, investment and local authority acceptance. Engagement of local citizens increases credibility and is a key factor towards project success.
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