Plateau du Levezou - Central Aveyron
Plateau du Levezou, the country of the five lakes
Plateau du Levezou is a region of man-made lakes nestled in the crystalline rock of the foothills of the Auvergne.
Its highest point is the Mont Seigne that peaks at 1128m.
In the 1950's EDF created five artificial lakes on the Plateau du Levezou in order to produce hydroelectricity.
Lacs du Levezou
Lake Villefranche-de-Panat, Lake Pareloup, Lake Pont-de-Salars, Lake de la Gourde and Lake de Bages are therefore known as Lacs du Levezou.
They represent a global area of 1800 hectares and are the largest group of lakes in France.
They are inter-connected by underground tunnels and controlled by a pumping system.
Water is channeled into a pipe and transported to the Pouget hydroelectric plant, which then releases it into the Tarn.
The creation of these lakes obviously necessitated the construction of dams.
Several valleys and their villages were therefore flooded and people displaced.
However, these lakes are not essentially used for the production of hydroelectricity, but also as nautical bases.
Lake Villefranche-de-Panat, Lake Pareloup and Lake Pont-de-Salars were converted for water sports and fishing.
Lake de Bages and Lake de la Gourde are essentially dedicated to fishing.
This had a very beneficial impact on local tourism, as the lakes are a very popular holiday destination during summer.
Plateau du Levezou, the land of windmills
However, the Plateau du Lévezou, is not only dedicated to water but also to wind.
The region is indeed swept by two major winds.
The Tramontane blows from the north-west and the Vent d'Autan a strong, hot and dry current blowing from the south-east.
The Occitanie-Midi-Pyrénées Region and the Aveyron département have therefore invested in renewable energy, and more particularly in the wind turbine industry.
The former Midi-Pyrénées Region already produces about 5% of national energy.
This places the wind turbine production in 3rd place after nuclear and hydroelectric production.
The Aveyron wind farm produces about 50MW and is currently the largest windmill farm in France.
Many building permits were granted in Aveyron, and in neighbouring departments, for another 400 wind turbines.
The energy produced will fully supply the needs of the department, the coastal region and probably the city of Toulouse!
These promising figures place France in 4th place worldwide for the production of clean energy behind Germany, Spain and Italy.
Wind turbines installation rules
The installation of wind turbines is, however, subject to strict rules across the entire region.
- The windmills are 125m tall and weighs 200 tons; they must therefore be located several hundred meters from the nearest dwelling.
- Their installation is forbidden in protected landscapes such the windy plateau of the Causse du Larzac.
- They must also be located in areas with low population and be away from air traffic corridors.
However, though of a bewildering aspect, they blend easily into the landscape.
Some rules are however implemented punctually, as in Salles-Curan near Lake Pareloup.
The construction of additional wind turbines was indeed cancelled in order to avoid disrupting the migration of local birds.
Environmental protection is an essential rule that requires constant monitoring.
However, the wind turbine industry is also a financial windfall for the concerned municipalities.
Indeed, the former Midi-Pyrénées region, the department of Aveyron and the municipality of Salles-Curan receive a steady income from the rent generated by such equipment.
They redistribute this income by boosting local development and regional economy.
Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Vierge des Lacs by Musaraigne is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
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