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Plans for a giant solar park anger residents in south-west France

First it was wind turbines but now it is 44,000 photovoltaic panels that are at the heart of tensions in the Lot

Plans for a giant solar park the size of 26 football pitches in an area of natural beauty has displeased local residents Pic: Bilanol / Shutterstock

Plans for a giant solar park the size of 26 football pitches in an area of natural beauty near the river Lot has provoked anger from residents.

The 19 hectares project led by TotalEnergies, is said to be “uncomfortably” close to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, the village widely regarded as France’s most beautiful.

The area is in the heart of the regional natural park of Causses du Quercy in the rural backwaters of the spectacular valley of the Lot.

"Look around you, it's 100% nature, it's a place that is known for its outdoor activities and it is beautiful. This is completely absurd," Antoine Drion, a member of Lot Célé, the local environmental association, told the public service media FranceInfo. 

“Especially sticking it opposite Saint-Cirq Lapopie, the wonderful tourism icon of a village perched over the Lot valley.”

Where sheep may safely graze

The plan, currently in the hands of the local préfecture, will come into effect in three years time. It will involve the felling of 2,500 trees. 

“They say it will be offset by herds of sheep that will be able to graze on lush grass growing in the shadow of the panels but that is hardly compensation for wrecking a big chunk of natural heritage in one of the most beautiful parts of France,” added one resident.

"I like to walk in the woods and it will become ugly", said another resident. ”Will we still be able to see, under the shelter of a dry stone wall, the ocellated lizard? Will it still attract the common buzzard or the wild bluebird?”

Read also: French railway fits innovative alarm system to stop wildlife accidents

Accusations of Nimbyism

However another accused them of being Nimbys, suffering from ‘Not in My Backyard’ syndrome. "No one wants solar panels outside their homes, no one wants wind turbines, but they all want to stop oil. There comes a moment when it is necessary to make some sacrifices.”

André Delpech from the local Chamber of Agriculture said: “We need electricity every day and will always need it. This is useless, arid land. With this development, everyone's a winner.”

The proposed photovoltaic park will not be visible from the famous village but it is nonetheless in the neighbourhood. According to the town hall, nearly 2,500 resinous trees will be sacrificed but in return, the park will supply electricity for 7,300 homes.

Opposing forces

On the outskirts of another village, Tour-de-Faure, in the Causses du Quercy regional nature park, TotalEnergies' project is also worrying local residents and nature lovers. 

Thomas Brail, founder of the National Tree Monitoring Group, says: “Under the guise of doing green things, they are ruining nature."

There have been petitions and marches along the 12km of trenches planned for the connection to the national electricity network. The park’s 44,000 photovoltaic panels will be one metre above the ground, installed for a period of 30 years. 

For the time being, the five plots concerned are still untouched. But their owners have already pooled their land and given their agreement to TotalEnergies, despite the protests.

Martin Vignals, a sheep farmer, has decided to lease two hectares of his land to the company. His animals will be able to continue grazing under the power plant. He even hopes to raise more: "The idea is to have a multi-species meadow with grasses and vegetables," he says.

Read also: Eight questions about installing solar panels on homes in France

Power for 7,500 homes 

He believes that the shade created by the panels will be able to save vegetation that has been badly damaged by successive heatwaves: "What I would like to see is a bit of greenery in the middle of the summer when everything else is burnt."

For TotalEnergies, the overall cost should be €15million. The Tour-de-Faure town hall has already validated the project and issued a building permit in 2020.

"It's going to produce electricity for 7,500 homes," defends Patrick Tesseydre, mayor of this village of just over 300 inhabitants. "It allows us to have clean electricity on the territory... and independence from the electricity produced by nuclear power plants."

But Catherine Marlas, President of the regional nature park has the final say: “This is our terrain, our heritage and we must look after it and not sell out to speculators.”

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