Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Our small commune, St Aquilin (pop 500) is riven by rumours, libel, slander and general ill-will over a project that, in the abstract, is all that fits in with current bio preconceptions, all that could be desired ecologically, arguably even economically. In real life, in this real village, it is expensive,in the wrong place, probably not economic and so, arguably, just plain daft.

The project is to create a methane gas plant that would be fuelled by cowshit and other farm detritus, that would produce electricity which would mostly be sold to the French state electricity body, Electricite de France, some used to dry farm produce that is otherwise subject to weather variations, such as maize, walnuts, wood, hay.

Here is the first snag: a monopoly purchaser is as unreliable as a monopoly supplier. Those whose decision, a decade or so ago, to cover barn roofs in solar panels, was swayed by the option to 'sell' electricity in excess to their own needs, will very probably agree.

The project has been launched by probably the village's largest, in terms of land owned or leased, accredited organic farmer.  He is a charming, active young man who has specialised in rearing cows, growing cereals and gathering walnuts.  His rapid acquisition of land, whether purchased or leased, has inevitably irritated others who either coveted the same properties or generally go 'mutter,suffer,grumble' about 'upstarts' and whatever the French is for 'getting too big for his boots.'  He is associated with a few other farmers in the immediate neighborhood (not actually St Aquilin locals) and has formed an association that has been given the State accolade GIEE – groupement d'interet economique et environnemental – by the Department of Agriculture.
The farm buildings, surrounded by trees, many of which will have to come down - site of the future gas dome

Unfortunately, the operational centre of his farming activity, and the proposed site for the methaniseur is surrounded by woodland, some of it protected. Not far from this rustic centre, at the end of a rural road shaded by ancient chestnuts are four houses and an unexceptional chateau.

Their proprietors learned of the project by accident through an article in the local newspaper, the respected Sud-Ouest early in 2015. Not surprisingly they are incensed and very vocal on the subject.

An existing gas dome of similar size to the one projected

Their complaints vary from the insecurity of the project –
methane is an unstable gas, deadly in some forms (ask coal miners) and popularly known for its use as rocket fuel;
include damage to the local environment as 25 ton lorries deliver the (smelly) raw material on a road not suited to such weights;
- is uneconomic and will not create the projected jobs;
- last but not least, the impact on the value of their properties...nimbyism exists in rural France, too.

It is also argued that Germany, so far ahead in many matters ecological, is having second thoughts about the impact of methane gas plants, that it has shut some down.

Also, there is already a methaniseur under construction in the commune of St Astier, not far away, on a main road. (Random info: St Astier was a more important saint than St Aquilin, the two are thought to have been friends. St Astier has a church to his name that is 1,000 years old, well the site is anyway.)

There are only four real employers based in St Aquilin, the
Mairie and the school, the bar,restaurant,epicerie Le St Aquilin, and the camp site with summer bar and restaurant, also a stocked lake for fishing, L'Etang des Garennes. The latter two, only potential employers, are also likely to suffer from the development.

The heart of the problem of this near 3m euro project, the 7th such in the Dordogne, is that it cannot get off the ground without departmental, state and EEC aid. No one can predict, should it come into existence, how long it will need a monetary subvention. It is an expense for the many, of benefit to a few.