Coal to renewable : Loos en Gohelle join the 100% renewable energy network

Jean-François Caron is the mayor of Loos-en-Gohelle since 2001

Jean-François Caron is the mayor of Loos-en-Gohelle (northern France) since 2001.

Published by Isabelle Meiffren on 16.01.2015

A town in northern France traumatized by the closure of coal mines in 1970, Loos-en-Gohelle, 7000 inhabitants, has joined the network of French positive energy territories (TEPOS). With 350 direct and indirect jobs created around the eco-activities and renewable energy in 10 years, Loos-en-Gohelle relishes its resilience.

Interview with Jean François Caron, its mayor since 2001.

What are you expecting from the TEPOS network?

We see this network as a clearinghouse that focuses on the "stem" cells of change, that is to say, methods, practices that allow cities and territories to take or regain control of their energy policy. We hope to find accomplices in innovation, and in our disobedience to established patterns.

Disobedience to established patterns: what do you mean by that?

An example: I have since the years 2000, acknowledged my aversion to electric heating, this French calamity. So, the project leaders, donors who wanted to build in the commune presented projects motivated by capital costs, operation, climate footprint, choice of materials. Legally, I could not prohibit the electric heater but I was able to share my concern not to add fuel poverty to economic insecurity, given the high cost of energy in France.

The "sustainable" job creation is the focus of your action. Miners moving to high­ value-added jobs. Has this evolution triggered mistrust on the part of the inhabitants?

When there is consistency, there is no mistrust. In Loos-en-Gohelle, our research over 20 years has been exemplary. We wanted to be the engine of a sustainable economic "renaissance" while claiming our right to error. For if we have the duty to act, we also have the right not to achieve everything, all at once!

These successes, what are they precisely?

We have a research and development centre on eco-materials and renewable energy, which is a national reference. We also welcome design offices, businesses, artisans who are at the forefront of environmental excellence. This consistency has united around us many technical and financial partners, state, region, Europe, while enhancing the attractiveness of our territory.

Next step: the creation, within our community, of a public service of energy. We are also able to engage in a constructive discussion with the locals. The elected members are not experts in everything and the people are great experts of everyday life. When I receive a petition (this has happened), I think I'm lucky, a collective dynamic is on! Part of a private interest, it opens the way for the general interest.

You have campaigned for the classification of the mining area that has the highest slag heaps of Europe, as world heritage of humanity. This has been recognised since 2012. How do you feel about this recognition?

Nothing can be built sustainable if we erase the traces of the past. This prioritisation gives an extra esteem and pride to the citizens. Visitors are discovering more and more how it is possible to build on the ruins of an energy model that has had its day, a new model for the XXI Century.