Safe, thanks to a long fight, the 'aquifer recharge area' that faced being levelled for a massive solar project

‘Catastrophic’ mega solar farm plan officially shelved

Citizens group responsible for mobilising mass opposition “delighted”

It is finally ‘official’: the massive solar farm, involving over 175,000 panels, planned to cover a key water catchment area in the Sotovento Algarve has been rejected.

Portuguese Environment Agency APA released its negative environmental impact declaration three days ago, saying: “As a result of the assessment carried out, direct and indirect negative impacts were identified that are very significant, irreversible, cannot be minimised or compensated for in terms of factors that are crucial to the assessment of the project, namely ecological systems, water resources, the socio-economy and the landscape. Accordingly, an unfavourable decision is issued for the Estoi Photovoltaic Plant project.’’

For Probaal – the group of citizens already well-known for fighting (and sending packing) environmentally ‘unfriendly’ schemes – this was another victory: hard-fought, exhausting, but worth every minute.

We Dared to Dream”, says the group’s press release today, recalling that since February 2021 (when news of this plan ‘leaked out’) Probaal “ had been working to secure the protection of shared water resources and the natural landscape at this environmentally sensitive location (…) 

In the case of challenging the Estoi Photovoltaic Plant project, “it took the will of a community to undertake what we were told many times was impossible – and to attempt to do it anyway (…) PROBAAL submitted around 175 pages of documentation to the public consultation process; with 75 pages of technical and legal arguments and 100 pages of supporting materials, including hydrological and biological studies specific to the project area. This had been our long-term plan but what surprised everyone was that in the end, 13 other groups and 847 individuals would also make submissions

During these last two years of preparing arguments “PROBAAL raised awareness of the problems that would be caused if a solar power plant was allowed to be built on this ecological land.

“Information was spread through press, social media and public meetings. Journalists, politicians, and citizens were invited to the land. Those who visited saw for themselves that the land was covered with vegetation as far as the eye could see and they felt that it should remain that way. 

“Everyone who came saw that there are no buildings on this land, because wise people in the past had decided not to build on a flood plain and wise people in this century had designated it as an ecological reserve for the recharge of aquifers and forbidden building on it.

“ PROBAAL is glad that the people of this moment have decided to act wisely, to uphold the protection status of this Reserva Ecologica National land and prioritise water resources”. 

As APA conceded in its Environmental Impact Declaration, the location proposed – already highlighted by Amnesty International Portugal as mired in double-standards –  is one of “maximum infiltration, which is just as important, if not more important, in terms of guaranteeing the infiltration of water into the soil, guaranteeing the future in environmental terms, guaranteeing the quality of such an essential asset, and maintaining it in good condition should be a priority. APA believes that the scarcity of water outweighs other concerns, such as energy.’’ 

Probaal also makes the point that “if the practice of working with communities from the early stages of large projects were adopted by companies, they could better avoid problematic sites from the beginning”.

In this case, Probaal tried in vain to contact Iberdrola – most spectacularly quite recently when a representative came to visit the site, and absolutely refused to engage with the local people who gathered. 

The efforts to build the case against Iberdrola’s plans cost “a lot of time and money”, while Iberdrola itself will have effectively wasted considerable time and money.

“A company valued at over 50 billion dollars has far superior financial resources than a small rural community and it shouldn’t be the case that normal citizens must find a way to employ biologists, hydrologists, engineers and lawyers to protect their water supply and the local environment. It is the job of government agencies and the businesses they work with, to ensure this happens naturally, via the normal and correct process”, says the press release sent out today. 

PROBAAL concludes that it “is unendingly grateful to everyone who has helped lift the threat hanging over this land. 

“We are thankful to the people who decided not to leave this job to others and came and worked with dedication alongside us. We appreciate those who understood that by working together, we had the possibility to achieve something that could never have been done alone. PROBAAL has worked to protect this area of land three times in three successive decades and it will continue to do so”.

It has to be said that Probaal also had the support of the local municipality which told the group that it had tried to get Iberdrola to change its mind for the last two years, to no avail.

APA has now finally done that definitively.

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