Decazeville: Cantos group achieves economic transition to renewable energies

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Originally from the Basin, the Cantos family ran an important industrial laundry network for a long time. But in the early 2000s, leaders preferred to turn to renewable energies: hydropower and wind power. Today, different assets of the family group are under the Ondulia brand.

He fell into it when he was little. Lilian Cantos is now the head of the Ondulia family group. In Decazeville, as in all of Aveyron, almost everyone knows the Cantos family. In 1946, grandparents Henri and Madeleine opened the first laundromat to wash single children’s clothes in Decazeville.

Very quickly, Father Manuel and his brother Robert joined the slowly developing family business with establishments in the south of France. It is therefore natural for Lilian Cantos to return to the company in turn. And very quickly she became interested in diversification possibilities. And it was decided to invest in renewable energies. We took the first step in 1998 by purchasing our first four power plants. he remembers. We are not the first in Aveyron since the hydroelectric power and dams we have known for a long time. On the other hand, we were pioneers in the world of wind energy when we bought our first wind farm in Aude in 2001. And since then we have been buying new ones regularly.

Electricity for 80,000 to 100,000 people

In a little over 20 years, this is how the company went from industrial laundry to electricity generation. An activity that gained even more importance after the resale of all laundries in 2004. Today, the group, still headquartered in Decazeville, is in nine divisions and manages ten hydroelectric power plants, eight wind farms and one photovoltaic roof through various subsidiaries grouped under the Ondulia brand.

Enough to generate electricity for 80,000 to 100,000 people. An important success for a family group among the giants of the industry. We didn’t want to partner with big industrial groups even if we had progressed faster in our development, continues Lilian Cantos. We have friends who start much later and want to join forces with big groups like Total or EDF, who have a lot of money but need to trust their design office. It’s easier for them to buy an existing design office by buying 70% or 80% of the shares. The company then has the funds to move forward. But after a few years the design office has grown so much that industrial groups buy it out entirely and the founders can retire. We, this is not our policy. We want to stay as a family group, we want our children to take over, so we’ve made logical progress.”

One development project per year

This is done on a project basis per year, whether by purchasing or building a new power plant, installing new wind turbines or replacing existing machines with new, more modern and more efficient ones. “It’s not easy because when you negotiate prices with wind turbine suppliers you don’t get the best prices compared to those who install 100 machines. We do four. That’s a disadvantage. Even at the administrative level, for large groups anything can go too fast. It’s slower for us.” Especially since it has become customary in the wind industry to avoid projects that may face conflict as much as possible. “We don’t want to engage in wars with rivals, continues Lilian Cantos. After all authorizations have been given, we intervene when the project is eligible to build and is free of application. That’s when we buy the records.”

Significant development potential

However, the entrepreneur is convinced that Aveyron needs to further develop its wind network. “What is certain is that the people of Aveyron think they are already making an important contribution to the national effort on wind power. That is their reasoning, but I only like it halfway. The more renewable energy, the more money there is. Why is there more room in Aveyron? “There is opposition, we have to discuss it, but we have to keep in mind what the issues are.” To remind the interest in municipalities: “Aveyron can benefit from this. There is significant potential. Especially in Larzak. There is potential to generate 1,000 MW, the equivalent of a nuclear reactor. A machine pays taxes for local authorities. Annually, this represents €7,000 per megawatt. “The Cantos group, which realizes the merger of all organizations with an annual turnover of between 20 and 25 million Euros, is aware of this and does not intend to stop its development, whether in hydraulics. (read next page) or at wind power.

An ultra-modern power station between Lot and Aveyron

In 2015, Lilian Cantos started a project that was about to bear fruit. It wants to build a new multi-purpose hydroelectric power station on the border of Aveyron between the municipalities of Cuzac (Lot) and Bouillac (Aveyron). “At the same time, we want to build a lock that will make it possible to extend the navigable section by 11 km. details Lilian Cantos. We will also continue the green road to Capdenac and expand the body of water to allow for the development of new sports and leisure activities. There will also be a fish pass and a fin dam that should help reduce flooding.”

The case is heavy and expensive, as the entrepreneur calculates the investment at €25 million. This is the price to install the latest generation of silent 4 MW turbines that can generate electricity for around 8,000 people. All on a river whose flow cannot be definitively cut off and therefore with a construction site in three stages. The project is already well advanced and has been done in consultation with public authorities.

The public inquiry is being prepared and if all goes well it could begin in early 2023, with commissioning expected before 2030. “The economic divisions in the region are significant: local businesses may be affected by most of the total investment, reassuring the entrepreneur, restarts the entrepreneur. Not to mention the equally important tax implications. This power station was to be the third of the family group in Aveyron, along with that of Espeyrac sur la Daze and Entraygues sur la Truyère. In terms of wind energy, the Cantos family has four wind turbines in the Cabreirens park in Salles-Curan and four in Sévérac-d’Aveyron.