How urban and rural areas can work together to promote renewables

Brest (FR) leads the way with an innovative urban-rural contract

It is no wonder that renewable energies are rising in popularity – they are absolutely essential in the long-term shift away from fossil fuels. In urban centres, however, the energy demand is high whereas the area available for renewable energies is scarce. Cities in particular are feeling the pressure to develop alternative energy sources and rural areas could hold the answer. This is precisely where the French City of Brest comes in as part of Climate Alliance’s Renewable Energy Regions (RegEnergy) project.

With RegEnergy, Climate Alliance aims to expand the share of renewable energies by creating partnerships between cities and their surrounding rural areas. Brest is part of the project and is breaking new ground with an innovative urban-rural contract. In 2015, France introduced a programme to promote cooperation between cities and rural areas for the first time, implemented through so-called reciprocity contracts. Just one year later, the Brest metropolitan region and the surrounding region of Central West Brittany (COB) became the first urban-rural partnership to officially sign such a contract. The aim of this partnership is to break down administrative barriers, establish joint work flows and make use of the strengths of both sides. "The treaty was born out of the political will to create strong relations between the two areas.  Even before the conclusion of the agreement, there were isolated areas of cooperation between Brest and the COB region, for example in the health sector. Nevertheless, the joint design and signing of the treaty has brought us closer," comments Sylvie Mingant, Head of Energy in Brest Métropole. 

In practice, the partnership is characterised by continuous, flexible dialogue. The focus is on sharing and developing common knowledge about each areas and local actors, understanding the challenges of both sides, and exchanging experiences, strategies and tools. The cooperation is accompanied by a monitoring committee that evaluates progress and identifies synergies. In addition to energy projects, the agreement also covers work in other fields such as economy, health and culture.

In terms of energy and the environment, the partnership already demonstrated concrete successes in its first years. The sustainably managed timber industry in COB, for example, has been expanded to promote wood-fired heating and heat network projects in Brest. The timber comes from the forests of the region and is the waste of the wood used in construction. "The heating network is scheduled to go online in September 2023 and should achieve a CO2 emissions reduction of 2,500 tonnes in Brest. The timber to be used will be sourced mainly from the surrounding area," explains Sylvie Mingant, Head of Energy in Brest Métropole. By participating in the RegEnergy project, both territories were able to further strengthen their relations and, in particular, expand the supply of renewables. For example, COB was able to draw on Brest's expertise in solar cadastres – the urban concept that has now been adapted to rural needs. In this way, COB was able to support its citizens in assessing their own potential for solar power. Throughout the country, solar technology is becoming increasingly relevant and municipalities are also becoming more aware of renewable energy projects.

The French City of Brest and the surrounding region of Central West Brittany (COB) show what urban-rural partnerships can achieve. By joining forces and using synergies, win-win partnerships are created – a success for both sides. Brest Metropole, together with the RegEnergy project team, will present this success to interested stakeholders in May. The RegEnergy final conferencewill take place in Oceanopolis – Brest, on 18 May, supported by the French EU Presidency, with the motto "Urban-rural partnerships for renewable energies". Here the project team will present numerous practical examples and show how these partnerships can contribute to a successful energy transition.

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written April 2022