Image from AI's report:

Government accused of railroading communities with mega solar parks 

Amnesty International highlights lack of transparency; absence of dialogue with populations

Amnesty International Portugal has accused the government of foisting mega solar parks onto communities without due process.

In an investigation entitled: “Mega solar power plants: When the ‘green’ transition is not fair” , the NGO identifies “lack of transparency and absence of dialogue with populations”.

AI explains, civic movements throughout the Alentejo and Algarve are challenging the roll-out of these projects, including in the courts, for fear they jeopardise people’s rights and the sustainability of their territories.

Opposition is not simply based on economic factors. As a pitched battle in the eastern Algarve has already shown, this is about potentially destroying ancient (and vital) aquifers.

One of the projects targeted in AI’s report is the Fernando Pessoa photovoltaic plant in Santiago do Cacém, again promoted by Spanish electricity company Iberdrola (Iberdrola being behind the contested plant in the above link).

Says the report, if the Santiago do Cacém plant moves forwards “it will be the largest in the country and in Europe. It will occupy more than 1,200 hectares and its construction will involve the felling of more than one and a half million trees. It is not only the scale of this mega plant that is causing social and environmental alarm, but also the choice of land, which, in this and other cases, covers areas classified as National Ecological Reserve (REN) and National Agricultural Reserve (RAN)“.

According to the document released today, the criterion for the location of power plants is proximity to high voltage lines, which can inject the energy produced into the grid. The criterion completely disregards social and environmental impacts.

AI Portugal also questions the green light given by APA (Portuguese environment agency) to the two power other plants planned for the Alentejo, as their location seems to coincide with areas considered sensitive by the Ministry for the Environment and Climate Action.

“Further south, in the Algarve, another project is in the process of public consultation that is also creating controversy because of its location. The future Estói photovoltaic plant will cover the municipalities of Faro, Olhão, São Brás de Alportel and Tavira. According to the civic association Probaal, most of the 156 hectares will be implemented in the National Ecological Reserve,” adds the report.

AI Portugal has compiled its research by listening to businesspeople, producers and farmers whose land and activities will be neighbours of the planned power plants. All have  pointed to concerns about the impacts on soil and underground water reserves, noting that the Estói plant is planned “for a valley that is an aquifer recharge area, with direct impact on streams and on water storage in the soil”.

Based on information obtained from its discussions with local civic movements, AI Portugal also highlights a distinct lack of transparency in these processes: citizens encounter difficulties accessing documents, and when they do managed this access, the documents tend to be in a “technical language, which hinders the participation of the population”.

The NGO has also criticised the lack of publicity of public consultation processes, which invariably come to the knowledge of citizens some time after they have been opened – and “without any disclosure by municipalities”.

AI’s concerns extend to environmental impact assessments, which they claim are being used expediently “and to the potential disrespect of the rights of populations, of the environment (as stated in Article 66 of the Portuguese Constitution) and of international law itself“.

“AI Portugal recognises the advantages of solar energy over energy obtained from fossil fuels, but calls for plans for the country to be able to involve the entire population, in an inclusive and transparent way. 

“AI believes that respect for human rights and climate justice are only possible if the solutions are able to keep the focus on sustainability and the horizon on the planet we want to leave to future generations,” concludes the document.

More on this topic in our paper edition which comes out on Thursday and shows that even when promoters visit potential sites, and local populations rush to speak with them, they refuse to engage.

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