Initiative comes as Spanish energy giant under fire over sustainability issues
Spanish energy giant Iberdrola has announced it has started “solar grazing” in its photovoltaic parks in Portugal.
This is a “clear example” of the company’s firm commitment to the country’s circular economy, as “solar grazing benefits farmers who gain new spaces for their activity”.
Another 200 sheep are “already in the process” of being introduced to further parks.
The news comes as Iberdrola has come under fire, precisely for sustainability issues in its roll-out of mega solar parks throughout the southern part of the country.
Amnesty International Portugal has outlined the issues giving examples too of communities earmarked for massive solar initiatives seeking dialogue with Iberdrola, and unable to manage it.
Earlier this month, in the eastern Algarve, members of Probaal – the group leading a major campaign against the installation of 176,000 solar panels on top of an underground cave system that feeds a critical aquifer – confronted a representative of Iberdrola as he visited the site in question, only to experience total brush off (see below).
Thus today’s announcement has to be seen a little in this context.
In Iberdrola’s mindset, its mega solar parks increasingly covering the southern region of this country are not compromising “the ecological maintenance of the land”. Indeed, by allowing solar grazing, the company says it is “reducing the risk of fire”, and “befitting animals that, in addition to access to food, find protection from the sun, rain and wind in the solar panels”.
This explanation does not take into account the fact that land-levelling operations have had to go on in these parks pre-the installation of Iberdrola’s solar panels – and it is this activity that groups like Probaal fear could destroy the very ‘circle of life’ (see video below).
Nevertheless, Iberdrola sees solar grazing as an added positive PR angle to its undertakings. Their statement to press offices, since the Amnesty International report was publicised, explains that:
“200 sheep have already been introduced in the Algeruz II photovoltaic park, located in the district of Setúbal, the first solar infrastructure concluded by Iberdrola in Portugal, with 27 MW of installed capacity.
“The photovoltaic plant of Conde, in Palmela, whose construction was concluded last year, is used by 70 sheep as a grazing place. In parallel, Iberdrola is in the process of introducing 200 sheep in the Alcochete I and II parks.
“In addition to exponentiating soil regeneration, guaranteeing the maintenance and hunting activities and supporting the local economy, “solar pasture” highlights an integrated approach to the development of renewable energies in Portugal, combining the production of electricity with the practices and needs of the populations.
“At Iberdrola we work so that renewable energy generation structures coexist positively with the population, generating local employment and supporting different initiatives aligned to the primary sector, such as the planting of vineyards or the installation of beehives. Our goal is to promote the transition to a new socio-economic model, climatically neutral, resilient, sustainable and inclusive”, says Alejandra Reyna, Country Manager of Iberdrola Renováveis in Portugal
This new grazing practice presents clearly “positive externalities for the community“, adds the statement. “In addition to creating local jobs, it encourages other sectors such as livestock farming, supplying the soil with nutrients and new seeds, increasing biodiversity in a more natural way.
“The maintenance costs in the areas involved are reduced and this control of the height of the vegetation also helps to prevent fires. A reality that creates a new ecosystem in which everyone wins: the shepherds, Iberdrola and the sheep themselves.
Algarve civic group stresses “has been trying to meet with Iberdrola for two years”…
This positive message by Iberdrola has not received much of an echo in the eastern Algarve, where residents involved with Probaal say they have been trying to establish a line of communication with the company for the past two years.
During that time, members have repeatedly sent emails/ letters/ requests for meetings to Iberdrola, without success.
On June 14, by what they believed was happy chance, a representative of the Spanish energy giant travelled to the site in question, for a meeting with officials of the ICNF (natures and forestry commission).
As Probaal members told us, “we quickly printed out an open letter and jumped in our cars…”
A group of about 20 Probaal members converged on the spot, and “asked everyone if they worked for Iberdrola, but no one affirmed that they did (…) At this point we realised, it must certainly be the gentleman who passed us as we arrived, his head down and already making a call on his mobile phone. When we found him, we tried to offer him our open letter but he refused to accept it, saying that we should submit it through the proper means.
“Then it was said that he would give us a business card (presumably with the address for our letter?), but once inside the car, the doors were shut and the car drove away without giving us any card”.
As Probaal’s members explained: “communicating through the normal means is a nice idea, but we have written emails, paper letters and communicated through the press to Iberdrola over the last two years, and only once, was our correspondence met with anything other than silence. Indeed, our previous open letter published 07/10/2021 in the El Correo newspaper of Bilbao, where the company has its headquarters, elicited no response.
“For this reason, we wanted to deliver this open letter from person to person”. But the Iberdrola representative made sure this was impossible.
For those who have not yet understood the battle on Probaal’s hands, the group’s website can be found online (probaal.org), as well as information on how to respond to the public consultation process over the solar park plan, open until July 20.
There are currently 28 mega solar farms in Portugal (projects involving more than 100 hectares). They cover 5,886 hectares (2,058 of which are in the Alentejo). Favourable environmental impact assessments have been delivered for another 33 mega projects (ie more than double the number that exist right now), to cover another 19, 275 hectares.
Amnesty International Portugal’s reports “When the green transition is not fair” can be read here.