Loos-en-Gohelle: 20 years of sustainable development policy, heading towards transition!

Photovoltaic solar panels at the foot of a slagheap

Photovoltaic solar panels at the foot of a slagheap

Published by Guillaume Maciel on 08/01/2013

Loos-en-Gohelle (French department of Pas-de-Calais) has been in complete mutation for two decades. This Nord-Pas-de-Calais town, with a population of 7,000 is deeply marked by its mining history, as the 146-meter high slagheaps illustrate[1]. It manages a complex legacy: the collapse of its economy, the disintegration of the social fabric, precariousness [2], environmental scars [3], an authoritarian culture…

The town council, in place since 1997, has decided to make a break with all these reminders of a non-sustainable past, elected. This is implemented through a deliberate sustainable development policy leading to a greater empowerment of the inhabitants. The method: experimentation and innovation, focusing on the active contribution of citizens [4]. And it works! The list headed by the mayor and regional councilor Jean-François Caron was reelected in 2008 with 82.5% of votes: it is massively supported by its citizens. Loos-en-Gohelle is today one of the foremost proponents of environmental innovation in France and a pioneer of energy transition. Flashback to some emblematic actions.

From eco-construction to renovation

Energy savings are the foundation of the strategies against the precariousness of energy supplies and in favor of the preservation of resources. Loos-en-Gohelle has launched significant eco-construction programs, the most remarkable being:

  • Le Chênelet: 6 social/affordable housing structures (PLUS energy plan) built in 2009; the energy target is 45 kWh/m2/year;
  • All council owned buildings eco-built or eco-renovated;
  • The VillAvenir project [5]: 6 experimental houses with high energy performances using 100 different types of technology, built in 2009 by the Fédération Française du Bâtiment (FFB) then retroceded to a registered social landlord…

The moment has now come for thermal rehabilitation of old constructions. The town practises a policy focused on the renovation of existing miners’ housing [6]. It will soon be home to a professional training center for careers in eco-construction run by the Fondation des apprentis d’Auteuil.

Saving, creating energy… and activities

The town is now heading for a new milestone: electric autonomy. There are projects which should enable the town to provide for its needs. One of the oldest, the photovoltaic plant nestled between the slagheaps, produces 63,000 kWh/ year. The church roof has also been fitted with solar panels. They produce an amount of energy equal to the consumption of two households (32,000 kWh/ year) and will generate a CO2 reduction of 2.9 tons per year. Similarly, the roofs of a number of private houses have been fitted with panels, with an average production of 86,000 kWh per year [7]. Wind power has not been forgotten and there is a project for the construction of 6 wind turbines ; these will produce a total of 9.2 million kWh. Discussions with Enercoop (national energy cooperative) are underway for electricity sales.

The town also hosts a test center for 24 solar technologies working in collaboration with the region’s engineering schools. This R&D and training platform will count 60 mobile or fixed structures to hold 1,600 m² of photovoltaic captors. The creation of a development center for eco-companies benefitted from the support of the Conseil Régional; this center, the CD2E brings together over 600 eco-companies, 150 of which are in the field of renewable energies. This economic intelligence tool aids the development of the sectors and the emergence of innovative strategies and clusters. [8]

To summarize, Loos-en-Gohelle’s success rests upon four pillars: A strong urban development, economic innovation strategies, R&D and training structures, all located in a remodeled mining site, among the World Heritage UNESCO sites, the culture and memory of which have been re-appropriated by man. This human dimension is essential to the success of the projects. It proves that when inhabitants understand the reasons for policies implemented and are closely associated with them, a whole territory advances in the right direction.

[1] The highest in Europe, higher even than the Cheops pyramid.

[2] Structural unemployment rate 3 points above national average.

[3] The town possesses half the regional surface of brownfields and faces substantial water pollution and treatment issues.

[4] Notably via the creation of an online collaborative citizen space, citoyentic.fr.

[5] Partners:FFB, CD2E, Maisons et Cités…; total budget:€ 1.9m (1.9 million Euros); the extent of the operation: : an engineering house and 6 mining houses.The aim is then to generalize this to the 70,000 mining houses in the town.

[6] Project Rehafutur among others.

[7] 30 solar energy subsidies have already been attributed to individuals.

[8] Business incubator or groups within the same sector, generally within a job pool.