“It is the most subsidized renewable energy, with a completely wrong approach to agroecological interest. It is grotesque, enormous, a heresy! It will end in a scandalous way. ” Olivier Allain does not have strong enough words to criticize agricultural methanization, a process consisting in transforming slurry, manure, plant matter and agri-food residues into energy. A few years ago, however, Emmanuel Macron’s “agriculture man” during the 2017 presidential campaign, vice-president of the Brittany region in charge of agriculture from 2015 to 2021, considered this technology to be promising. But the Costa Rican breeder, who has held responsibilities at the National Federation of Farmers Unions (FNSEA), has changed his mind. The rapid development of the sector, under infusion of public money, and its impact on the agricultural world got the better of his enthusiasm. He is not the only one to be alarmed.

In France’s leading agricultural region, anaerobic digestion units, massive and expensive infrastructures, often backed by large farms or operated by large cooperatives, or even by local communities, have sprung up like mushrooms for five years. The professional organizations concerned count 153 of them currently in operation, against less than ten ten years ago. In addition, 130 projects are under study. At the origin of the phenomenon: an alignment of favorable economic and political planets.

In the mid-2010s, “green” gas was presented by many energy companies, as well as by the State and the FNSEA, as a solution to many ills. It should make it possible to diversify the French energy mix, and therefore to reduce dependence on other countries. It is also supposed to help reduce the quantities of livestock manure spread on the soil, which is mainly responsible for nitrate overflows in water bodies – while this process of degradation of organic matter in a closed environment preserves the nitrogen, thus nitrates, and phosphorus. Finally, it must provide the farmers concerned with additional income, in a context of repeated agricultural crises, while the purchase prices of meat, cereals and other dairy products are compressed by agro-industry and mass distribution.

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Environmental risks

With its 110 million farm animals and 1,500 food establishments, Brittany appears like an El Dorado. Germany, where anaerobic digestion flourished in the early 2000s, was then cited as an example – since then, the process has been widely criticized and its development has been hampered by the state. France, it opens the floodgates from 2013. Successive governments simplify procedures and subsidize infrastructure. The feed-in tariffs for “biogas”, guaranteed by fifteen-year contracts, vary between 64 euros and 139 euros per megawatt / hour, or five to ten times the average cost of natural gas from Norway, Russia, countries -Bas or Algeria, main suppliers of the French wholesale market.

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