Triodos Bank’s Executive Board provides a perspective on the wider world it operates in, its impact and activity in 2017 and its prospects for the future.
What challenge was the source of inspiration for your project?
The main challenge was to adapt the project to an area that was undergoing strong development in renewable energies (wind, solar, wood, etc.) by anticipating a technology that was non-existent at the time the project was developed. We had to seek out high wind, we needed a manufacturer who could deliver the machines to a site that lacked suitable access and finally satisfy the specific features of connecting to the network. Clearly, we could not work with the machines that manufacturers were presenting to us 10 years ago. We therefore had to "invent" the machine for this farm.
What innovation did you use to address this problem?
When we talk about innovation, it is primarily from the "landscaping" perspective. When operational, this wind farm would have the tallest wind turbines in France (180 metres to the blade tip), we had to break through the ‘psychological’ ceiling of 150 metres. Just like it had taken 10 years to break through the ceiling of 100m. We spoke about the fact that manufacturers were providing their machines with blades in two pieces so that they could deliver to complicated sites and finally we had an effective and pragmatic discussion with the network manager to find an economically acceptable solution for connecting the farm.
What impact did Triodos Bank have on your company?
In order to support this innovative project, the UNITe Group chose Triodos Bank due to its long-standing competence and expertise in financing wind farms and innovative renewable energy projects in general.
Triodos Bank as an agent was involved in the project as soon as the permissions were obtained, very early in the construction phase. It was the real driving force for the project's group of banks, both in terms of the speed at which it obtained financing agreements and in its ability to move away from traditional approaches to financing renewable energy projects. For example, it incorporated crowdfunding into the finance plan, both for senior debt and capital.
What impact has your company had on your business sector?
The UNITe Group and more specifically its subsidiary that develops wind farms, ALTECH, has risen to seemingly impossible challenges several times. In 2001, we obtained planning permission for a wind farm in the municipality of Boulin en Vendée which, at the time, was the largest farm (20MW) with the tallest turbines and the highest power rating in France... The tourism and financial impact on the municipality would prove to be extremely positive. In 2010-2011, ALTECH once again obtained permissions to build Alstom's prototype offshore wind turbine, HALIADE 150 on the Carnet site in Loire-Atlantique. Finally, in 2017, the wind farm with the tallest wind turbines in France began operating. In short, the UNITe Group, and its subsidiary ALTECH, has demonstrated through its project developments that a sensible approach which respects the local area can be used to overcome all the challenges related to land development.
What has been the local impact of your company on the community?
In the municipalities where the wind park is located, Saint-Secondin and Ferrière-Airoux, we have enjoyed the unfailing support of the local communities, firstly through Mr Baudifier, former Mayor of Saint-Secondin, then with the current Mayor Mr Saumur. With this backing it was, therefore, normal for our approach to be managed with a view to the economy of the catchment area. SMEs and larger companies benefited from the project's economic influence early on, as did local shops and hotels that welcomed the arrival of the construction site staff for a year in a difficult economic context.
Finally, for 11 years, we have provided daily support for the renewable energies education initiatives conducted by the community, whether by participating in awareness days, symposiums or even by opening up some of the wind farm's capital to participatory investment.
How does Triodos Bank share your vision?
Triodos Bank and UNITe share the long-term vision of renewable energy investment and the desire to combine energy transformation and responsible land management. We are working together at renewable energy conferences on how to incorporate crowdfunding into projects in order to promote local investment and to participate in the development of the smart grid (bringing production and end-consumers closer together).
The UNITe Group developed close ties with Triodos Bank during the project's financing phase, which has allowed us to confirm that we share a joint vision of sustainable development.