Just returned from an interesting meeting about the wind farm project in the Hautes Corbieres in Dernacueillette. We had been called late last week by a representative of the Aude Chambre de l’Agriculture to say they had been tasked by EDF Renewable Energy to consult local farmers on the impact and development of the wind farm project. They were breaking the area up into small parts and consulting each part, the area covered for this meeting was Maisons, Montgaillard and Dernacueillette.
This is a different project from the one I wrote about earlier. (See Wind Turbines in the Hautes Corbieres and Maisons Wind Turbines Failed ) That was a small scale project initiated by the Mayor of Maisons. This project is much bigger and stretches across the Hautes Corbieres from Cascastel to Mouthoumet. There are four zones, Cascastel des Corbieres, Quintillian, Davejean, Dernacueillette, Laroque de Fa and Massac, and Mouthoumet and Laroque de Fa.It involves between 30 and 40 wind turbines spread across the four zones with, I think, a relay station at Palariac. My understanding, confirmed by Claude, was that the Quintillian and Mouthoumet zones have been ruled out but the Cascastel, Laroque de Fa, and the Davejean / Denacueillette projects are still in play
Today’s meeting was neither pro or anti the project, though of course the implications for the future of the Hautes Corbieres did come up. Rather it was an information gathering exercise, mainly about what sort of agriculture, numbers of farmers and types of farming went on in our are, and sounding out what we in the agricultural sector saw as the major priorities for the sector’s development.
The second, for the purposes of the meeting, was the most important, from what I understand of it there are four possible components of the revenue from a wind farm, firstly is the direct payment for the rental of the space it takes, and then a top up of based on the megawatt capacity of the generators, in the case of the proposed wind generators that amounts to about 12,000 euros per generator. For this project that is split 50/50 between the commune and the Communaute des Communes Leziganaize Corbieres Minervois.(Henceforth CCLCM because life is too short to type that out again). There is a small change in local taxes, a very small change for the better, the possibility of lower electricity bills and there is co funding for economic development, particularly in the agricultural sector. EDF Renewable Energy will match fund projects agree with the CCLCM.
It was not exactly a packed meeting, the lateness of the call inviting us may be the reason, it was the held on a hunting day another, and the wine makers are working flat out pruning the grapes while the weather stays so mild yet another. Or of course people are cynical about such consultations, which tend to create work for functionaires, waste time of hard pressed producers and result in not a lot actually getting done apart from some pretty powerpoint presentations.
Still the Mayors of Montgaillard, Michel, who is a wine maker, and Dernacueillette, Claude, who will welcome a small wind farm, were there, as was Guillaume the wine marker of exceptional wine who is based in Dernacueillette but has vines in all three communes, as were Caroline and myself. It was a bit of a shame that there was nobody there from the Maisons Mairie but the lateness of the call may account for that.
The meeting was in two parts, the first was to do a general survey of the state of the agricultural sector in the three communes, and the second to address what were they key concerns for the future of the sector and where we would like to see any potential investment generated by the wind farm to be targeted.
With only around 5% of the land of the three communes farmed the agricultural base is small, the largest is grapes, with activity in all three communes, Maisons and Dernacueillette also have sheep, and Maisons have cattle, all raised for their meat, there is us doing organic aromatic herbs, and a honey man. There are also grapes grown in the communes by people who love outside them, like the Mayor of Palariac who has vines in Maisons, Guillaume himself actually lives down on the plains. I was a little surprised by the lack of knowledge about the agrea from the Chambre Ag, who’s records were well put of date. But we are a small part of the Aude, hidden away in the hill and well below their radar.
We were the only organically certified producer, although Michel, the Mayor of Montgaillard, did make the point that they practiced an organic regime with a very limited range of treatments. One of the advantages of having very few neighbours to spread diseases. There then followed an interesting debate about growing vines at high altitudes. The high Corbieres is one of the highest wine growing areas of France. Indeed the Cave Co-op that covers our area, and take most of the grapes now that the cave at Padern is closed is Talairan, also known as the Cave des Vertige. The committee that run the Cave are re-looking at their marketing approach with the idea of concentrating more on promoting the uniqueness of high altitude production. Although it means that we can produce high quality wine with the grapes having longer to mature and develop their individual flavours it also means that on average our harvest is 6 weeks later than down on the plains. This has a knock on effect on the marketing of our wines, while low land winemakers have finished their harvest and are flogging the years harvest at the many wine salons set up for that purpose our wine makers are still in the vines harvesting the grapes, or in the caves performing the magic that males the wine. which outs us out of annual marketing schedule. This hits Guillaume in particular, most of the growers around us are members of the cave at Tailairan, so in effect they are grape growers leaving the production side to the experts at the cave, Guillaume is the only one that does the entire process himself. A much bigger and time consuming job, especially when you include the hard slog of selling the wine.
There then followed a debate about the two major projects for the area, the wind farm itself and the PNR, parc naturel regionale. Michel expressed concerns that the wind farms would put in danger the PNR, which he saw as crucial for the future development of the area. It should be noted that Michel has a personal vested interest in this, as like Rene in our village he supplements his wine making income with running Gites for tourists.
It is an interesting point, the development of the regional nature park in the High Corbieres has been rumbling on for over a decade now, it is part of the tourist development of our part of the South of France. As the Claude, Mayor of Dernacueillette, pointed out the economic benefits are vague, whereas the wind farm revenue is a known quantity, he also made the point that while the wind farms revenue goes to the collectivities, the communes and the CCLCM, any revenue from the PNR, which will be funded by the tax payers, goes to individuals. The thing is there is already a wind farm in the area, I can see it out of my bedroom window on the heights of Mont Tauch above us, equally there is a high tension network that links the nuclear power stations of the Rhone valley to the lucrative Spanish markets, it passes across our lands. The general consensus was that the PNR and the wind farms were not incompatible, but I think that needs to be confirmed a little more concretely.
The last area under discussion was the key areas that we thought the potential investment should be spent on. For the wine makers the first and foremost priority were the wild boar, with such a vast terrain of garrigue and forest the wild boar population is now out of hand. The hunt does it’s best but the cost of fencing off vines and maintaining those enclosures is a heavy burden on the grape growers. The devastation that a pack of wild boar can do to the vines is both heart breaking and economically painful. The second area was water management, flood damage of vineyards close to streams and rivers is taking a toll, and it is something that needs to be managed by the State as individual property owners have no right to touch natural water flows. Equally the slow but inevitable effects of climate change in the Hautes Corbieres means that periods of drought are getting more and more frequent. Last hear the last meaningful rainfall was in April, there was no decent rain for the next eight months. The fact that the Corbieres sits on a huge underground lake that is fed by the Black Mountains and the potentials for exploiting that, and understanding the implications of doing so, is only just being explored. The consensus was that more work by water experts needs to be undertaken by the Chambre Ag with the relevant authorities. Last but not least we had a brief discussion about how we could encourage new farms and agricultural projects. I gave my usual spiel about how we could be encouraging small scale organic producers to set up in the area, that how he combination of low cost land, with the ability to pass direct to organic production without the usual transition period was well received, or politely received any way.
So what do I conclude about it all.? Well my views on the wind farms I have already written about (See Wind Turbines in the Hautes Corbieres) . If the revenues from the wind farms are channeled into development of the agricultural sector of the area, if the politicians reserve the revenue for economic development and use it to trigger the match funding by EDF ER then the it could have an exponential impact of the growth of new, hopefully organic, projects in the Hautes Corbieres. But that is a big if, Mayors faced with shrinking budgets will have a tendency to use the money to make up for budget shortages. If that is the case then it will be business as usual and the slow decline of the Hautes Corbieres will continue.