The Pyrenees was one of France’s pioneering regions in the hydroelectricity sector. Many of the dams are now tourist attractions. In Portillon (31), at an altitude of 2,566 metres, Laparan (09) is the highest with a 106 metre wall. In Lanoux (66) can be found the biggest, with a capacity of 70 million cubic metres. The most recent (1996) is Olhadoko (64).
Aristide Bergès, born in Lorp, Ariège in 1833 and son of a paper manufacturer, was the first to make a turbine function with water, inventing what he called the “houille blanche”. The Pyrenees’ first dam, on Lake Orédon in Aragnouet, was not operational until 1864. It’s role was to regulate and increase the flow of the Neste canal in the Hautes-Pyrenees.
But it was to satisfy the energy consumption of the railway that water reserves were created at the beginning of the 20th century. That was when hydroelectricity took off...
The southern France railway company began the construction of the Oule dam in 1914. In June 1929, the hydroelectricity company (SHEM) was created. It went on to become a key player in the history of hydroelectricity in the Pyrenees.
But it was after the Second World War that the development of hydroelectricity sped up. That’s when the Pragnères power station was created with its state of the art system using three dams, Ossoue, Escoubous, and Cap-de-long and more than 40 kilometres of galleries. Just 250,000 cubic meters of concrete were needed to build Cap-de-Long, an arched dam measuring 100 metres deep with a capacity of 67 millions cubic meters. It was completed in 1953.
The construction of other dams followed: Gloriettes (1952) on the Estaubé stream, Escoubous (1953), Naguilhes in Ariège in 1957, and Migouélou, (1959) in the Gaves valley…
The last major dams to be built are in Ariège: Pla de Soulcem (1983), Garrabet (1984), Laparan (1985), and the youngest, Olhadoko, in the Basque country in 1996.