Civic group leading environmental battle delights in people power
At midnight last night, the deadline for public participation in the plan for a mega solar farm on top of a key water catchment area in the interior Sotavento came to an end – with a total of 831 people and organisations having submitted their evidence and opinions to the online portal of the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA).
Probaal – the group of citizens that has been fighting the Central Solar Fotovoltaica de Estoi plan since getting wind of it two years ago – has been overwhelmed by the response.
On the final day for entering opinions, there had already been well over 660 submissions. Over the last precious hours, more and more people began adding their feelings, until the deadline arrived, and the process moved to ‘the next phase’.
In a press release issued last night, Probaal acknowledges that this is by no means the end of the road, but that organisers have learnt that “people power is extraordinary and can create miracles.
“While this has now become one of the most well subscribed online public consultations ever to have occurred in Portugal, it’s not the number of votes that counts but rather what the Evaluation Committee that analyses them, decides. It is the members of this committee who get to ‘vote’ on whether this 69-megawatt solar power plant is built on Reserva Ecologica National land, or not”, the group explains, stressing that the planning process for this project “has not been undertaken in line with agreed best practice and the requirements of the Aarhus convention, to which the government of Portugal (as a Member State of the EU) is a signatory”.
Thus “we sincerely hope that the voices of the hundreds of citizens who have expressed themselves at this stage in the process, will be listened to and respected. These voices have raised valid concerns with the current proposals and we hope that the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), will consider this feedback and act with regard to the concerns raised.
“To comply with the Aarhus convention, the promotor Iberdrola Renewables Portugal should have provided proper accessible information, including how site selection was undertaken, and provided a genuine opportunity for public participation in decision making”, the press release explains.
“The company has failed to comply with both requirements: information has not been accessible and the promotor has failed to explain how this site was selected in comparison with other possible site options. The promotor has not engaged the local population to establish participation in this process, making this proposal unlawful”.
As previous articles in the Resident have alluded, there is something in this entire process that ‘doesn’t smell right’.
Tavira town council, for example – in whose catchment area the bulk of the almost 176,000 solar panels will be sited – had reportedly been telling Iberdrola for the last two years to find another location (due to the sensitivity of the site that feeds the main Peral-Moncaraphaco aquifer on which boreholes and mains water supplies depend). But Iberdrola did not change its plans.
Amnesty International Portugal highlighted this particular battle in a recent study to show how Portugal’s government and companies (like Iberdrola) appear to be forging ahead with mega solar complexes with no consideration for rights of populations and future generations, nor of likely environmental consequences.
As Probaal’s latest press statement explains, the group hopes that the evidence it has presented “in the form of biological and hydrological studies, science-based analysis reports and legal submissions, will help to send this Iberdrola Renewables Portugal solar project where it belongs” (which is not on top of the protected wildnerness of Cerro do Leiria crucial to water catchment).
Amnesty too has followed up on its report, to warn that “increasingly, land management and tackling climate change will have a direct impact on human rights. It is our goal that the research we do can contribute to raising awareness and bringing these issues into the public debate. That is why we consider the position of the Tavira City Council and the (…) participations in the public consultation (…) small victories. It is for more small steps that can add to the search for solutions that we will continue to work”.
Concludes Probaal, the founder president of the group is now in her 93rd year. “The group intends to continue the work she began, into the future, by continuing to take a stand for the natural elements of the Barrocal region”.