country, fields

Iberdrola suffers new broadside in plans for mega Sotavento solar park

Tavira municipality tells power giant: “find another location”

The fight to save 154 hectares of ‘wilderness’ crucial to the replenishment of a major aquifer received a welcome boost earlier this week when the local municipality told concerned residents that it is on their side.

Tavira mayor Ana Paula Martins reportedly told the delegation from Probaal citizens group that she has been telling Iberdrola Renewables Portugal to find another location for the last two years (meaning, since the Spanish power giant began studies to push forwards this locally unpopular plan).

She said that in the council’s opinion – which it submitted to Iberdrola as part of a ‘preliminary hearing’, the deadline of which fell on Monday (June 26) – there are too many negative ecological impacts in sighting almost 176,000 solar panels in Cerro do Leiria, Barrocais and Cerro das Ondas.

But it is not just the negative impacts that Probaal has highlighted in the past that concerns the municipality, there is also the question of plans for 14 megawatts of storage of lithium-ion batteries – a technology which would be new in the region, and is rife with potential hazards.

“Lithium-ion batteries are unstable and prone to fire as there are flammable electrolytes stored in the battery cells. Lithium-ion batteries are known to undergo a thermal runaway process during fault conditions, which results in a rapid increase in battery cell temperature and pressure, accompanied by the release of flammable gas,’’ Probaal explains in a new press release.

“How to combat any thermal runaway problem depends on the type of chemicals that are used. There is special equipment to measure these gases, but most firefighters do not have such tools. One problem with volunteer firefighters is that there can be a high turnover of staff, so knowledge is dropped and new people have to be trained immediately.

”The suggested site (for this 84MW project) is located directly on top of the seepage area of the large Peral-Moncarapacho aquifer. A fire or a leak of chemicals from the battery storage facility could cause catastrophic pollution in the groundwater system and the aquifer below.

“If a fire were to occur, the water used to extinguish it could also cause catastrophic damage and pollutant runoff into our groundwater,” the release continues, stressing that Iberdrola “should have sought other more suitable locations and not have spent all its efforts, since August 2020, to secure land and carry out studies on this large area of REN (national ecological reserve) land”.

According to Probaal’s information, the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) itself has asked Iberdrola to present them with suitable alternatives, “but Iberdrola Renewables Portugal has not yet done so”.

Concerns, clearly, are that something here does not ‘smell right’.

“In view of what the laws about this classification of REN land state, PROBAAL is surprised that APA is even considering this project or allowing it to be put in public consultation”, says the group, citing decree law nº 93/90, Article 4  which states: “… In the areas included in the REN, actions of public or private initiative that translate into subdivision operations, urbanization works, construction of buildings, hydraulic works, roads, landfills, excavations and destruction of vegetation cover are prohibited”.

Destruction of vegetation is most certainly envisaged, in order to evenly place  175,798 solar panels on undulating land, full of rocks which naturally provide seepage for rainwater into the cave system below that feeds the Peral-Moncarapacho aquifer.

Probaal has no doubts: “It’s time for Iberdrola to find an alternative location that doesn’t negatively impact water, biodiversity and people”.

The group which has successfully fought-off environmental threats in the past, adds that it has been “very encouraged to hear the opinion expressed by Tavira Câmara”.

In the meantime, public consultation on this project – already cited by Amnesty Portugal in a study on how the government appears to be railroading communities with mega solar parks – is still underway, even though the site for people’s opinions has not been working properly today.

It remains open for people’s opinions until July 20 here.

Probaal’s own website gives people interested advice on how to register their opinions.

The group’s focus throughout this battle has been on saving ancient heritage landscape that plays a key role in the area’s natural biodiversity. 

Nature is in a crisis situation”, the group quote from the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030. “In the last four decades, global populations of wild species have declined by 60 % as a result of human activities. Nearly three quarters of the Earth’s surface has been altered, reducing nature to ever-smaller spaces of the planet.”

This little corner of the Sotavento is home to 250 species – 46 of which are RELAPE (rare, endemic, localised, threatened and/ or endangered) and 27 exotic. These are just part of the multiplicity of reasons why this massive stretch of wilderness should not be cleared to make way for a sea of solar panels. 

As campaigners warn, if they are, the consequences in times of already diminished rainfall, would be catastrophic.

The Resident is in the process of trying to get a response from Iberdrola Renewables, which has managed to avoid all requests for meetings by Probaal.

As soon as we are able, we will bring the company’s statement.

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