Geothermal Energy Puts French Town in the Spotlight

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"The bio-mass boilers run on recycled wood chips, heating the water and pumping it through the town along 30 kilometers of piping."

Imagine having renewable energy on tap.

Well, that's how it is for one French town.

Searching for alternative energy during the oil crises of the '70s, the people of Jonzac found hot water—and plenty of it.

The geothermal spring was first used to heat nearby buildings, but when its healing properties were discovered the town built thermal baths.

The spa has proven popular, but for Mayor Claude Belot a communal heating system was the ultimate prize.

''A hundred years ago in France, and probably in Great Britain too, it was the local authorities who set up the energy systems of the time: electricity, gas etc. They abandoned that to hand the profits to the big international providers. But the solution was on their doorstep, it's on our doorstep too,'' says Claude Belot, Mayor of Jonzac.

Most of the geothermal water was now used for the baths, but its heating potential had provided vital inspiration.

The bio-mass boilers run on recycled wood chips, heating the water and pumping it through the town along 30 kilometers of piping.

Residents like Sylvain Bellor enjoy a reliable heating system with consistent pricing, far from the volatility of the energy markets.

''For me the most important thing is the simplicity of it, there is an organization that looks after all the upkeep. It's very practical and financially it's less burdensome,'' says Sylvain Bellor, local resident.

A second geothermal spring inspired a naturally heated water park, with tropical plants inside and out.

And, once the spa had been in use for 20 years, the town was eligible to build a casino.

The next stage is bottled mineral water and a range of beauty products.

The only question is what will the people of Jonzac do next with their geothermal gift?

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