Citizens powering up France with renewable energy

FRANCE • When an artist and a farmer in Brittany decided in 2002 that it would be a good idea to produce energy locally from renewable sources, they started knocking on doors and tried to get their neighbours involved.

Some 12 years and €12 million (S$19 million) later, Mr Michel Leclercq and Mr Jean-Bernard Mabilais realised their dream through Begawatts, the first citizen-built wind farm in France.

Its four turbines are located amid gently rolling hills between Rennes and Nantes.

Begawatts produces enough electricity to supply 6,250 households annually, and sells it to a major electric utility company, Electricite de France.

Mr Leclercq noted that the idea seemed insane at first, but “then more and more people joined us and began to believe in it”.

The idea for Begawatts grew into a nationwide movement piloted by an association called Energie Partagee (Shared Energy).

Created in 2010, the organisation has two arms. Energie Partagee Association gives advice and assistance to 270 citizens‘ clean-energy projects all over France. Energie Partagee Investments raises funds for selected renewable-energy projects.

So far, €15.5 million has been raised and €11 million invested in 46 projects, producing energy through wind, solar, hydraulics and biomass.

Energie Partagee Investments‘ entry-level investment is €100 to ensure that it remains open to all, with an expected return of 4 per cent over a 10-year period.

Though citizen participation in renewable-energy initiatives is well established in Germany and Denmark, Energie Partagee is a pioneer in France.

Investor Robert Rochaud, 63, of Poitiers, France, has gifted shares to his grandchildren.

“I‘m worried about their future,” he said. “If they ask me later what I contributed, I can look them in the eye.”