In 2021, the project of building a photovoltaic (PV) farm on the old Mine of Montbelleux in the municipality of Luitré-Dompierre, in Brittany, was conceived by a private landowner. The project proposes the reconversion of a tungsten mining site that has laid dormant since 1983. The plots of land, classified as degraded/polluted (BASIAS) by the French Geological and Mining Research Bureau in 2005, were considered as having assets for producing photovoltaic energy (a good orientation and slope, no agricultural stake, good accessibility, no identified environmental stake (no classification Natura2000, ZNIEF, historic monument, archaeological...) and a weak co-visibility) .
In September, the project proponents, who preferred not to disclose their name and created a webpage to publicize the project started works to identify the impacts of the project. From November 2022 onwards, they planned to contact the people and organizations affected by the project to gather their opinions and suggestions, and then propose the best balance. They scheduled to collect funds through participatory funding, and claimed that the project would benefit the community, by providing electricity to about 9,000 homes (excluding heating), as well as through taxes proportional to the plant’s installed power; by studying the possibility of equipping a public building with PV panels; through actions of (re)afforestation and conservation measures; by helping associations develop their projects; and through specific measures for affected residents. We do not know whether consultations took place, as no mention is made of their outcome on the webpage, and the link to related article is nonfunctioning .
The news of the plant caught media attention in November 2021 . The website Actu.fr announced that the municipal council of Luitré-Dompierre, during its meeting on 16 September, had issued a favorable opinion on the PV plant. In December, the city council voted the modification of the local urbanization plan (PLU), approved in 2014 and originally intended to prohibit new construction in the mine area . While the council’s decision still needed the approval of the Atelier du Canal (an urban planning firm that caters to public and private clients), that change of course was challenged by three associations: Mémoire de la mine de Montbelleux (Memory of the Montbelleux mine, or ‘3 M Montbelleux’ – which, in 2012, had been assigned the management of tourist activities in the mine area) , DesTerresMINEes35 , and Passiflore . "We would have liked to be associated with the process, but none of the associations were authorized to, so we approached Eau et Rivières de Bretagne, which is an authorized agency, to be able to follow the file. We wish that this kind of project had a more global vision, in coherence with the territory and its natural areas", explained Sébastien Jégo, member of La Passiflore and DesTerresMINEes35 .
Local environmental associations were also worried that the project would require a costly connection to a high-voltage line. La Passiflore and DesTerresMINEes35 feared that the project would remove 6 ha of woodland. In March 2022, the general assembly of the 3 M association was held: the president mentioned the project of the solar farm, and the association expressed its concerns to the town mayor, Michel Balluais. They stated that the change of use of the place would totally change the aesthetics, the atmosphere and therefore the soul of the place, and that the programmed destruction of all the wooded areas would disrupt the activity and projects of the association .
With a view to the second round of the legislative elections on 19 June, the three environmental associations asked the candidates Thierry Benoît (Ensemble!) and Hélène Mocquard (Nupes) to express themselves on this subject. The associations argued that the southeast sector of Fougères agglomeration (where Luitré-Dompierre is also localed) had the lowest density of trees in the area, and that more trees should be planted rather than cut. They also maintained that PV panels were far from compensating for the overall benefit that woodland brings on a surface. In addition to their ability to produce oxygen, fix CO2, maintain the soil, and serve as an ecosystem refuge for animal and plant species, the woods "cool temperatures in summer and are real sponges that return water slowly. […]. How do we explain [to our grandchildren] that in an effort to decarbonize, we have destroyed these trees?", they asked .
On 18 June, an open-door day organized by the town council took place in the mine’s area. Interestingly, in inviting citizens to participate, the institutional website of the Ille-et-Vilaine department (province) warned that the mine area was “threatened [by] the project of solar farm of 16 ha plans to raze the 6 ha of the wood” . In the meantime, opponents of the farm launched a petition on Change.org to stop the project: in less than a month, the petition collected 418 signatures . In July, a few dozen people gathered there to oppose the solar power plant project. Among them were representatives of the three associations, and residents. The mayor took time, arguing he wanted to respect the procedure and wait for the results of the impact study . In August, the project proponent (whose photo was published in the news, unlike his name) gave an interview defending the benefits that would accrue from the plant, minimizing the naturalistic value of the trees planned to be cut, but saying he was willing to preserve a part of them that was closer and more visible to the residents. He announced that a round of consultations would start in November. No further mention is made of this consultation to the date of publication of this case (March 2023). On 17 February 2023, the three associations organized a public meeting on the planned plant at the Luitré-Dompierre wedding hall. In announcing the meeting, they declared willing to propose a complementary or different approach . About 70 people participated in the meeting. The associations maintained that, while the owner argued that the trees were planted thirty years earlier, after the cessation of the mine in 1987, the wood had already appeared on maps dating from 1800. They also recalled that the city council had voted in 2014 its classification as a protected area in the local urban plan . The associations also challenged the landowner’s argument that the site was polluted because of the activity of the mine. "Only six of the 17 hectares of the site are classified as polluted, but the wood is not concerned," they noted. They proposed that PV panels be installed on other sites in the area, so as not to sacrifice a natural area, and mentioned the hectares available on the site of the Aumaillerie, where the old cattle market was held in Fougères. Finally, the opponents denounce the "opacity" around the project and the lack of information, especially concerning the impact study .