Mega solar farm planned for key water catchment area: today is final day for opinions
Massive solar installation would have transformed the wild land locals are trying to defend

APA “rejects” Iberdrola’s bitterly-contested plan for mega solar park in Sotavento

Plan goes against wishes of council, local people and environmentalists

Portugal’s environment agency APA has reportedly delivered an ‘unfavourable decision’ on the mega solar project that Spanish energy giant Iberdrola has been planning for upwards of two years on protected land in the rural Sotavento.

Expresso carried the news in an exclusive yesterday evening, albeit the citizens’ group that began drawing up reports and studies into why the park was such a bad idea is hedging its bets.

“We haven’t heard anything official yet”, said one of the principal champions of the fight. “We are hopeful but have to remain cautious”.

The agony behind this sense of hope is the truth that the news refers only to an intermediate document. It is perfectly feasible, for example, that APA delivers a ‘no’ to be followed by further ‘discussions’/ changes etc., prior to the issuing of the ultimate document that Iberdrola wants: a favourable declaration of environmental impact.

As Probaal, the citizens group that began preparing for this fight as soon as it heard of Iberdrola’s intentions, has stressed time and again, the installation of over 178,000 solar panels with consequent land-levelling on a stretch of protected land that acts as a catchment area for rainwater feeding a critical aquifer would be catastrophic. But Probaal’s interpretation comes from a point of view of sustainability. Amnesty International Portugal has stressed this point of view is often not the one driving these mega interventions dressed up as being ‘green-and-all-about-renewable-energy’.

Says Expresso, as the situation (appears to) stand, it is a “blow for Iberdrola and a setback from the Portuguese government in its zeal for solar energy”.

Just that sentence alone suggests things, in the context that the government has an absolute majority, could change. 

But APA’s reasoning takes no prisoners.

According to Expresso, the agency considers the project involves negative direct and indirect impacts which are “very significant, irreversible cannot be minimised nor compensated for”.

In other words, APA pretty much accepts everything Probaal has been saying throughout its campaign.

The paper adds it has confirmed the situation with Iberdrola.

Expresso suggests that APA’s decision is “critical”, as it essentially does away with a chunk of the 700 megawatt capacity planned which the government awarded in an auction in 2020. It also makes it impossible for the development of an ‘innovative storage component, a 14 MW battery park’ which Probaal has described as a potentially catastrophic fire risk.

Expresso had the success of contact with Iberdrola Renovávéis Portugal (something Probaal had struggled to achieve for the last two-plus years. The Resident’s own efforts also struck out). The company’s Portugal based general director, Alejandra Reyna, said that in Iberdrola’s mindset, the location chosen was one posing “the least environmental impacts, due to the complexity of the surrounding environment.

“In this study, areas close to urban centres, protected areas, agricultural areas, areas with steep slopes were ruled out. In fact, the area presented in the Environmental Impact Study is the only one with sufficient area to minimise all impacts as much as possible,” she said.

The area occupied in the proposed (and now “failed”) project was “distributed in such a way as to minimise impacts on heritage, ecological systems or water resources (not occupying, for example, areas of maximum recharge of existing aquifers)”, Reyna told Expresso.

This of course is only Iberdrola’s view of the plan. Probaal/ the local borough council/ local hunters all saw things very differently

Iberdrola’s project was in public consultation between May 19 and July 20, and was one of the most participated ever regarding the development of large-scale solar plants. 

It is also the second ‘major solar project’ to receive an unfavourable decision from APA in the space of a month.

The first was the Greenvolt/ Alpac Capital plan for a 705 MW expanse of solar panels in the Alentejo, involving the destruction of hectares of prime forest land and compromising swathes of land atop aquifers.

The Resident will try to get confirmation from APA of this decision, and possibly a comment on what it actually means for Iberdrola’s intentions.

UPDATE: A very ambiguous reply from APA: our questions as to whether Expresso’s article is correct, and what this means for the intentions of Iberdrola, elicited the response that: “The case referred to is currently being heard by interested parties“.

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