A new solar power plant, described as the largest in Portugal and one of the largest unsubsidised solar power plants in Europe, was inaugurated in the Eastern Algarve borough of Alcoutim on Saturday morning (October 9).
Spanning the parishes of Vaqueiros and Martim Longo, the plant is able to produce 219 megawatts (MW) of solar power. It was developed by WElink Energy/Solara4 in partnership with China Triumph International Engineering Company (CTIEC).
The solar park is named Central Fotovoltaica Riccardo Totta after the father of landowner Maurizio Totta, and was initially expected to occupy an 800-hectare area but was reduced to 320 hectares. Developers say the plant boasts “large green areas and green corridors” between the 661,500 solar panels that have been set up which will generate enough energy to power 200,000 homes. They also promise that carbon emissions will be reduced by 326,000 tons per year.
Attending the inauguration ceremony were several central and local government officials, including Minister of Environment and Climate Action, João Pedro Matos Fernandes; Deputy Secretary of State for Energy, João Galamba; and Deputy Mayor of Alcoutim, Paulo Paulino.
“Producing electricity from renewable sources and without emissions is even more current in the face of global warming,” said Environment Minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes.
The minister also said that Portugal is one of the countries with the lowest electricity fees in the world and is thus “better prepared” to face the energy crisis currently affecting Europe.
While the crisis is being followed “with a lot of concern” by the Portuguese government, the minister said: “We know how to fight high prices: by supporting projects like this one.”
The project represented a €170 million investment and created at times 500 jobs during the construction period, and another 15 to 20 for the plant’s daily operations.
“This was the largest investment ever made in the municipality of Alcoutim,” said deputy mayor Paulo Paulino.
Meanwhile, the plant’s developers say this is “just the first step to something great.
“We aim to continue developing the plant’s potential with the implementation of storage systems which will be fundamental to revolutionise the country’s energetic panorama, namely in terms of optimising the cost of energy,” said Hugo Paz, WElink’s project manager for the Iberian Peninsula.
The solar plant is already linked to the substation of the National Electric Network (REN) in Tavira after receiving the licence it needed from the Board of Energy and Geology (DGEG) on September 15.
In their statement to the press, the developers stress that the mountainous terrain of the Serra do Caldeirão, where the plant is based, posed a challenge to the project’s engineers and made it a “case study” on an international level.
The scope of the plant was also highlighted by the developers, who say that it is five times larger than the Amareleja power plant, which in 2008 was the largest in the world.
WElink and CTIEC have also worked together on the creation of another solar plant in Portugal called Ourika. Located in the Alentejo borough of Ourique, the 46MW plant boasts 142,000 solar panels and has the capacity to power 23,000 homes per year.
“We can say it has performed better than we expected from an energy point of view. It is completely integrated in the surrounding nature and preserves the natural habitat of native species, like the recent sighting of an Iberian lynx proves,” added Hugo Paz.
About the landowner
Maurizio Totta was born in Italy to an Italian father and Austrian mother. Like his father Riccardo Totta, he obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
He has spent most of his professional life leading his family businesses in Austria. Since 2013, he has been investing in renewable energy, following up on the first investment he made in this sector in Argentina in 1977. He also has several ongoing projects in Brazil, “always with sustainability” in mind.
He had only been to Portugal twice when a friend of his recommended purchasing the plot of land in Alcoutim where the solar plant has now been inaugurated. In the Algarve, he saw “all the conditions for a great project which uses solar power” and the “existence of a precious and inexhaustible resource: the sun”.