Bringing a community with you
Setting the scene
While the number of renewable energy projects around the world is growing by the day, many people still oppose them. Frequently, that is because communities feel like they are not asked for their opinions, have no say in the matter, and cannot influence the development process. As a result, the general sentiment towards proposed renewable projects often tends to be wary at best.
This was the case in France for our 12 MW wind farm project Clos Neuf. With this project, we wanted to bring renewable energy to the Brittany region, more precisely to the communities in Merdrignac and Illifaut. In total, Clos Neuf would produce 26 GWh per year, equivalent to the electricity consumption of about 14,000 residents in Brittany.
However, it was clear from the outset that without genuine engagement with the local community, progress would be slow and maybe even grind to a halt. Our French colleagues needed to bring the community onboard, proactively engage with them and make them an integral stakeholder. Keeping residents informed and listening to what they had to say would be a good first step. Allowing them to invest in Clos Neuf, making them actual shareholders, would be even better.
This kind of community participation would be very new and highly progressive in France. As such, it would be key to regularly inform the residents about the development process and the investment options they would have as early as possible – and then keeping them in the loop.
On top of that, our colleagues had to keep in mind that the so-called ‘citizen shareholders’ had very different expectations, wishes, and hopes than corporate investors. It would be the responsibility of our French team to proactively manage these and prove to the Merdrignac and Illifaut residents that BayWa r.e. considers them real stakeholders.
After the municipal council gave the green light for the initial phases of the project, BayWa r.e. started to give numerous presentations about Clos Neuf and invited residents to open days at the building site. Our colleagues also made it a point to visit important local events, such as agricultural shows or the Marché de Merdrignac market and inform people about project development. In 2018, we allowed communities to financially invest into Clos Neuf and communicated this via attendance at the same local events.
Residents of Merdrignac and Illifaut loved the idea: together with the financial institution Banque des Territoires and our partner Quénéa, local communities contributed €500,000 as shareholders and another €500,000 as bondholders for a total of €1 million! Shareholders will profit from the economic yield of Clos Neuf over its entire lifecycle in proportion to their investments, whereas bondholders benefit from an interest rate of 5% per year over the span of seven years.
With their financial investment, the involved communities will also be part of the extended strategic committee of the wind farm project and therefore part of its management. This includes, amongst other things, making decisions about local contracts.
As a result of the excellent preparation of our French team, Clos Neuf passed the final stage of its authorisation process in 2019 without any opposition or appeal. Citizen shareholders, who are now true ambassadors for the benefits of renewable energy projects, will continue to meet twice a year. And France can now avoid about 8,120 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year – an important contribution towards its climate goals for 2030.
A stronger involvement of locals in the governance and economic yield of renewable projects, starting from their development phase, is a fundamental condition for their acceptability and critical to BayWa r.e. With Clos Neuf, we have shown that this is possible and want to repeat this success.