The essentials A solar power plant project on a private agricultural field of 32 hectares shakes the city of Gratens with 700 inhabitants south of Toulouse. A collective has been formed and the town hall is waiting for further guarantees.
Does the future of agriculture depend on photovoltaics? These solar panels, designed to convert energy into electricity, are on the rise. Rural France is experiencing a real boom in these solar power plants, the sustainable projects of which are largely government funded.
However, the start of these ecological projects is often a cause for concern. This is the case in Gratens, a small town of 700 inhabitants south of Toulouse, where a solar power plant could be installed on a private agricultural area of 32 hectares in the Barrau district. A collective has just been founded and the new municipal team needs guarantees and more transparency for these systems, which are supported by the Enoé group and have been in existence for over forty years. “We fear that we will be completely overwhelmed by requests of this kind and that other projects will pop up and rave about everywhere,” assures the Mayor of Gratens, Alain Dutrey.
The solar panels have to be set up about 1.60 m above the ground under a sheep farm in order to achieve an output of 18 megawatts (Mwp). This corresponds to the consumption of around 3,380 households. “These areas remain agricultural. We are only diversifying in order to continue the activity without harming the environment,” emphasize the owners of these areas, whose son has to take over the business. A family settled in Peyssies not far from Gratens and has already started agrivoltaism in Fontenilles not far from Toulouse.
“We are far from a win-win situation”
“There we continue our activities with sheep so that they can come out of their stables and graze in the fields. A subdivision even has to be built very close to the panels. So fear can’t hurt. We can understand the reluctance of some, but the farmers do nothing… ”defend the owners.
The Gratens project has yet to be validated by the Chamber of Agriculture and City Hall. Studies on the effects on flora and fauna are also expected. In this case, the Enoé group will seek a compromise. “The aim is to get the animals in good condition by providing a service to agriculture to ensure the sustainability of the farms,” says Isabelle Decombeix. The electricity collected by these panels is redistributed in the grid and sold to other large energy consumers in the form of an over-the-counter contract.
For the farmer who installs these systems on his land, the financial slump is not to be neglected. With this type of contract, the income is between 500 and 1,500 euros per hectare per year. The town hall for its part levies the development tax, ie € 20,000 and € 4,500 per year for the property tax. But for the city team, “we are far from a win-win situation, since the electricity that is generated is not used by the city’s residents,” we mitigate. Residents whose bill should not be affected by this new generation of energy. In the best case scenario, the project should not see the light of day for two years.