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French village slashes electricity bills by using old watermill site

A mayor in northern France has made his commune almost energy self-sufficient by harnessing water power again

Francis Fustin, mayor of the village of Gœulzin, in Nord, northern France poses in front of the hydroelectric plant Pic: Mairie de Goeulzin

A village has become “virtually autonomous” for electricity, thanks to a mini hydroelectric plant installed on the site of a former watermill.

Francis Fustin, mayor of the village of Gœulzin, in Nord, northern France, said: “When I was elected in 2014, I looked at our outgoings, and energy was a significant cost.”

Read more: Electricity bills in France to rise by 10% from August 1

Harness the waterway again

There was a small waterfall where, from the 16th century, a watermill was used to grind flour, but the wheel was destroyed in the 1980s.

“In the 1980s, there were grants to destroy wheels, and now we are looking for grants to build them.”

By harnessing the waterway once again, the mairie calculates that it could produce 100,000kWh of electricity per year.

Around 45,000kWh are needed to power public buildings, such as the town hall, library and school, and by switching to LED light bulbs, they were able to reduce street lights from 120,000kWh to 55,000kWh per year.

Save €75,000 per year on electricity

Outside, electricity is needed only at lunchtime, when there is a spike as the school canteen heats up its meals. 

“That will have changed by the end of the year, once we’ve installed around 20 solar panels,” said Mr Fustin.

The wheel, inaugurated in 2020, cost €350,000 pre-tax, but the town paid only €90,000 after various grants.

Meanwhile, the 1,000-strong commune saves €75,000 per year on electricity.

“It has become a site people visit, but above all they appreciate the savings,” said Mr Fustin. 

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