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In the Commune of Montans, France, Citizens Speak out Ag...

In the Commune of Montans, France, Citizens Speak out Against Methanation Plant

Air Pastel. This is the self-given name of the association of French citizens opposed to the building of a methanation plant in the development area of Guardige-Longue. This development area is located in the commune of Montans, in France’s department of Tarn. The association hopes to preserve the quality of life for citizens in the inter-communal

City view of Albi, Department of Tarn, France showing the Pont Vieux and Pont Neuf . Photo shows trees on the right side of a river. There is a small island covered in trees in the middle of the island. The river then runs underneath two multi-arched bridges.  On the left side of the photo, across the river, lies the city.  Stone buildings line the shore.

Air Pastel. This is the self-given name of the association of French citizens opposed to the building of a methanation plant in the development area of Guardige-Longue. This development area is located in the commune of Montans, in France's department of Tarn. The association hopes to preserve the quality of life for citizens in the inter-communal area. According to the members, the methanation plant, called the Vinométha project, will have a negative impact on the local environment. Christian Sirgue, president of Air Pastel, explains: "We are not against methanation, but are rather against the size of this industrial methanation plant." He adds, "There are already two agricultural methanation plants within a 10km radius of here."

These citizens made their worries known at a public meeting that was organized with the project developers. The meeting was a required public survey, so that citizens could have a say in the revision of the urban planning process. This is known in France as the Plan d'Occupation des Sols (The Plan for the Occupation of Land). The members of Air Pastel explain: "If the local urban planning division hadn't been slowed down by having to host this meeting, the inhabitants would not have known about this project until after it was completed."

Effectively, this methanation plant, which is expected to process less than 50 tons of agricultural materials per day, only needs to finish registering in order to begin construction. The project will not be subject to an additional public survey regarding the plant's actual activities.

The neighboring citizens say that they worry about the risk of unpleasant smells coming from the site, due to stocking that is anticipated to take place regularly. They have talked to us about having to unload the dregs of distilled grapes, and also manure and poultry droppings. Other citizens express concern for the economic security risks associated with this type of factory. "There are only three jobs directly associated with this type of factory. What are the economic risks?"

Finally, citizens worry about the possibility of someday extending the factory. "Why buy 7 hectares of land? That is much larger than they need..." The association circulated a petition that garnered more than 1,300 signatures. "We have asked the mayor of the city and the presidents of the Tarn and Dadou departments for a moratorium on this issue."

The public survey ended October 18, 2014. The investigating commissioner will release the results of the meetings around December 18, 2014.

Vineyard in Cahuzac-sur-Vère, Department of Tarn , France. Photo shows a line of grape vines with the rest of the vineyard stretching out towards a hill behind it

Olivier Carré Defends the Local Interest in the Project

Olivier Carré is one of the directors of the enterprise in charge of the methanation plant project. He has agreed to describe the specifics of the plans.

In response to the locals' fears that the plant will produce unpleasant odors, he says, "In our application for permits, we included a study on scent. This study was not required, but we provided it because we understand the locals' worries. The agricultural products that will be used will mostly be the dregs of grapes. They will go through a distillation phase that guarantees an almost complete absence of irritating smells. As far as the presence of manure goes, there will be no more odor released than that of a typical farm.

The inhabitants are also worried about the strong stench of animal slurry. Knowing that methanation requires liquid, we anticipated this concern. However, we don't necessarily need animal slurry to complete the process. We are using a dry reforming process. We could replace the slurry with water, but that would be less ecological.  Regarding bird droppings, we will be using very little because they are full of nitrogen.

Everyone needs to keep in mind that the digestates created during methanation will eventually return to the nearby vineyards in the form of fertilizers. The fertilizer needs to be good quality. It's a sort of safeguard on the waste that we might use for methanation. It is the reason that the option of working with the wine industry came into the picture."

Responding to citizens' fears that the plant could be extended, Carré said: "We are appropriating 7 hectares of land. A part of the surface will be used to build a wall out of clay. Next, the parcel will be divided in two for the purpose of channeling. At these edges, construction is forbidden. Finally, the limits of the land are a bit irregular, which makes the surface less useful. Also, we are at the maximum limit of production for the permit category we are in, thus an extension would not be able to be built.

What is the interest for the local economy? Carré responds: "It is true that there are only three types of jobs directly associated with the plant, but the interest also lies in preserving the jobs at the nearby distillery. Those in the vineyards no longer have to go through the distillery to dispose of the dregs. Next, there is the chance for the winemaking industry to make a profit off its dregs. In return, they will receive an organic, quality fertilizer from the methanation plant. In terms of developing a circular economy, this is an exemplary project. Finally, the gas produced will go through a pipe that leads to Albi, a nearby city. In Albi, the largest consumer of gas is the VOA (a factory that produces glass bottles).

What is the balance between citizens' quality of life and sustainability? When there has been a clash between the two, what has your city done to find a balance?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

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