What are the impacts of the wood-energy policy in PACA?

The increase in competition between actors, particularly economic actors, has severely impacted the forest landscape. We observe a landscape divided between overexploited plots and intact plots, which strongly impacts local biodiversity.

Funded by the LabEx BASC in the framework of the 2017 "Innovation" Call for Projects, the project took place over 2 years (2018-2019).

Project leaders:Juan Fernandez (CNRS researcher from the Systematic Ecology Evolution laboratory) and Roxane Sansilvestri.


Following the European call for projects concerning the development of renewable energies in 2011, a biomass power plant was developed in the city of Gardanne, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region (PACA). With a capacity of 450 MW (by comparison, most wind turbines in France have a capacity of 1 to 3 MW/unit), this plant uses more than 855,000 tons of wood per year to produce electricity, making it one of the largest biomass plants in Europe. Given the fragile local socio-economic and ecological conditions, the development of an industrial-scale wood-energy industry in the PACA region raises many questions concerning the impact of intensified forestry on biodiversity, the carbon balance, the existing wood industry, and the landscape.

Centrale de Gardanne © AFP PHOTO/ Gérard Julien pour France3Info

Photo Centrale de Gardanne © AFP/ Gérard Julien pour France3Info

Presented as a panacea by national and regional authorities, that is to say that wood energy could meet, at the same time, the climate mitigation strategy (international issue), energy needs (regional issue) and the development of an economic sector (local issue), many actors have engaged economically in this new sector.

Paysage côtier de Provence Alpe Côte d’Azur ©Roxane Sansilvestri

Our research project is interested in the changes in local dynamics generated by the development of the Gardanne power plant and attempts to evaluate the capacity of local actors to cope with both societal and environmental disruptions. The scientific approach is clearly interdisciplinary, combining approaches from sociology, ecology and economics. The methodologies used are individual interviews, group workshops with local stakeholders, field visits and observations, and ecological modeling based on the national forest inventory. (Photo: Landscape of Provence Alpe Côte d'Azur ©Roxane Sansilvestri)

Main results

Photo Roxane dit tableau PACA bois énergie

Our analysis shows that the policy of developing wood energy in the PACA region has not taken into account the unique characteristics of this specific socio-ecosystem that are the Mediterranean forests:

1. The development of the Gardanne plant is the result of a European public policy structured and developed, above all, to meet European and national objectives. Thus, many stakeholders in the PACA region have felt aggrieved and even betrayed by national policies. The development of the wood-energy activity, which could have represented an economic opportunity, has caused numerous conflicts and increased competition between actors. The policy has favored large industrial actors (cooperatives, ONF Energie, energy plants) to the detriment of small local economic actors (local boiler rooms, sawyers, independent operators, loggers). Photo: workshop ©Roxane Sansilvestri

2. These socio-economic dynamics are not without consequences on forest ecosystems. Indeed, the increase in competition between actors, especially economic ones, has severely impacted the forest landscape. Exploitation pressure has increased on species with high calorific value (profitable for wood-energy) and easy access (lower exploitation costs). In the simulations, a landscape divided into overexploited and intact plots is observed. This type of exploitation has a strong impact on local biodiversity, especially with the recent exploitation choices of the downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and the holm oak (Quercus ilex), which are both key species in the dynamics of Mediterranean forests.


In preparation


> Presentation of the preliminary results at the General Assembly of the "Syndicate of forestry operators and sawyers of the Mediterranean Alps" (SEFSAM), followed by discussions, June 2019.

> LabEx scientific days, November, 2020:

Quels scénarii pour la filière bois_FIBIOS

===> The project leader explains the project and its RESULTS in VIDEO

Modification date: 14 September 2023 | Publication date: 02 October 2018 | By: J. Fernandez, R. Sansilvestri