French utility Engie and developer Neoen are planning what would become Europe’s largest solar park and one of the biggest in the world, a 1GW array close to the city of Bordeaux linked to battery storage, green hydrogen production and a datacentre.

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The about €1bn ($1.2bn) project, dubbed Horizeo, would sell electricity directly to industrial customers and won’t need subsidies, but Engie acknowledged that its sheer size and environmental implications will require a public debate.

An area of about 1,000 hectares of fenced-off plots of private forestry companies dedicated to growing maritime pines would need to be cleared. The utility said it still needs a clearance authorisation, as well as going through a set of regulatory, administrative and technical procedures.

Deforestation is a sensitive issue in densely-populated Europe, even if for renewables or sustainable industry projects. The clearing of less than 200 hectare of pine forest near Berlin for a new Tesla car and battery factory has triggered protests, lengthy public hearings and lawsuits against the company. Forests cover some 30% of the territory in France and Germany.

Compensatory afforestation

Engie said its southern French project would involve the compensatory forestation of a greater area than the one being cleared.

“We are committed to carrying out an exemplary project in terms of environmental and societal approach. The upcoming public debate will allow us, in particular, to enrich and feed all the components of the project,” said Gwenaëlle Avice-Huet, deputy managing director in charge of renewables at Engie.

The company told Recharge the area of the project lies outside any regulatory zoning for environmental protection, and on a private hunting area that is not classified as an agricultural zone.

Neoen's chief executive, Paul-François Croisille, added that Horizeo aimed at showing that the energy transition can be accelerated by offering competitive renewable energy directly to companies.

“This project is designed as a true low-carbon energy platform combining mature solar energy with ambitious technological innovations, such as electricity storage batteries,” the CEO said.

“Our priority is to integrate this project into the realities of the territory from an ecological, societal and economic point of view.

“Given the unprecedented scale of the project, the public debate will make it possible to involve all local actors and the general public as widely as possible to develop all its potential for the benefit of the region.”

The company also plans to combine agricultural and solar power production in the area.

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