154 hectares “rich in biodiversity, trees” sits atop Peral/ Moncarapcho aquifer
For the last two years, Spanish company Iberdrola Renewables, Portugal S.A. has been formulating its plan to transform a vast expanse of Barrocal landscape, in the eastern Algarve, into a massive solar park with over 175,798 photovoltaic panels.
Last Friday, the project came up for ‘public consultation’ giving ‘interested people’ 42 days to lodge their reactions.
Members of the Probaal environmental group got wind of Iberdrola’s plan almost as soon as landowners started being approached by representatives two years ago.
“It has given us time to get reports done, bio studies, etc., so that we are ready to object”, one of the group’s leading members told us. “But had we not known about this, 42 days would have given us no time at all to lodge objections based on scientific studies. They could have been dismissed as too emotive”.
Probaal is convinced the plan will be nothing short of catastrophic. The wild, rocky bowl-shaped area is crucial for water filtration to the Peral/ Moncarapacho aquifer. Even Iberdrola concedes in its non-technical report that levelling of areas presenting “unevenness that is not compatible with the project needs” will be required, even if only “occasionally”.
Probaal’s members fear the worst. As they point out the project, dubbed Central Solar Fotovoltaica de Estói, has been drawn up for land is nationally ‘protected’, having REN (national ecological reserve) and RAN (national agricultural reserve) classification.
The site is currently home to 250 plant species – of which 46 are RELAPE species and 27 are exotic species. It lists 127 species of birds, one of which one (Bonelli’s eagle – Aquila fasciata) has an unfavourable conservation status; it hosts at least 16 mammals including the hare (Lepus granatensis) which even Iberdrola has acknowledged stands out “as an Iberian endemism” whose “protection from extinction threats is critical”.
Back in 2021, when local people first got wind of the solar farm plan, the Algarve Bloco de Esquerda party tried to get more details from the government, arguing that “photovoltaic production cannot be done at the cost of the destruction of vast areas of land where there are often natural carbon sinks, such as forest and fertile soil”.
If projects like these are given the go ahead, the Bloco warned that they will contribute to the “degradation of biodiversity, water resources and the adequate conditions for sustainable agriculture.
“Large solar parks should be located on unproductive soils and in areas of the territory where their installation causes minimum environmental impacts. Furthermore, these projects should be subject to strict environmental, social and economic criteria, and to inclusive and participatory public consultation processes from the earliest stages of the project,” said the party.
For the moment, it is what it is: Probaal is ‘ready’; its website is up and explaining everything to anyone who wants to know – and the idea is before the weekend to have a text, in Portuguese that can be used/ modified for complaints to be lodged in the Public Participation process.
Probaal has created a bilingual video, which explains the importance of this unspoilt natural area:
How to take part in the public participation process is also minutely explained (click here).
Probaal comes to this fight with a degree of environmental clout: 13 years ago it mobilised against a quarry on the same land, authorised by the then Tavira council, having been in existence for around a decade before that, precisely to protect the valley against man-made harms.