PROBAAL fights against solar panel farm in Barrocal

By Paula Martins, in News, Algarve, Sustainability · 19-03-2021 01:00:00 · 6 Comments

Pró Barrocal Algarvio (PROBAAL) – Group of Environmental Defence - calls to put an end to the prospecting of an area of 200 hectares to build a solar panel farm in Barrocal that they believe it will be harmful to the environment, destroying aquifers, fauna and flora.

At issue are the areas in the region between Tavira, São Bras de Alportel and Olhão counties. Although nothing is official yet, PROBAAL have evidence that Iberdrola is planning the construction of a solar panel farm in these places.

Everything started in September 2020. “We have been alerted to this possibility by the fact that Iberdrola did some exploratory ground works here in September and have since been offering contracts to rent land in the locality”, explained PROBAAL.

They have since discovered that several landowners in that region have been approached to rent their land for several years so that the Iberdrola Company could use them for solar panels.

Environmental Damages
For PROBAAL there are two main causes of concern. Firstly, habitat costs. Thousands of trees, 50 species of birds, plants, flowers (rare orchids included), in these “200 hectares of natural wild life of land and habitat is massive”, said the environmentalists.

Then, the problem that they pointed out as the most dramatic in the case is the potential destruction of a “valuable and healthy” aquifer. “We are above an aquifer. Large amounts of water infiltrate here because of all of these trees and nature, without this vegetation, the water will simply run off, without infiltrating into the soil this will stop the feeding of the aquifer”, they explained.

“They’re turning the Algarve into a desert”, they warned. PROBAAL believe that at a time when the Algarve suffers from a lack of water, it is wrong to destroy an aquifer, even though it can cause even more flood problems in the cities of Faro, as the water that does not infiltrate into the land, runs off to the cities. In addition, “less trees, less rainfall, this is scientific facts”, they clarified.

You are probably wondering, would it not be a good thing for the environment to build a solar panel park because harnessing the sun is a renewable energy? So did I, so we asked what the PROBAAL thought about it.

Well, despite being better than other energy sources, solar panels still pollute. According to the environmentalists, the average life expectancy of solar panels is 25 years and the waste from their recycling can be worrying. “Countries without robust e-waste disposal means are at a higher risk of recycling related issues”, they state, adding that it might lead to the increase of “toxic waste for future generations”.

In addition, PROBAAL explained that solar panels are built using extremely polluting heavy metals, which means that this renewable option, in their opinion, is not perfect and is not worth for the damage in Barrocal.
The Portugal News asked IBERDROLA to comment on the situation but at the time of going to press they had not responded.

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PROBAAL doesn’t understand how solar parks would increase biodiversity? But we assert that Solar projects would have less damaging environmental impacts if they were kept to smaller sizes and located on land that is already denatured. Perhaps located on a site where plastic greenhouses once made a forest for migrant workers? Or land which is already cleared or semi-industrial.
We understand that the prospect of income from renting land is attractive but together we need to find economic solutions that respect nature AND our communities. Tourism is the largest business sector across the region and we would be wise to protect what it is that the tourists come here for – The Beautiful Algarve – a place that is not yet industrialised to the maximum, unlike like the places many visitors come from. We would be prudent to learn by the mistakes of others.
And finally, it is exactly because it’s our back yard, that we endeavour to take care of this land – because absolutely no one else will do it and certainly not large companies with quotas to fill and profits to make. If we all cared about our back yards and had the power to protect them, we would be able to do the best for the natural world and each other.

By PROBAAL from Algarve on 22-03-2021 11:39

It’s true, there are some really good projects where foods are grown under solar panels, most often on land which has already been cleared for agriculture:
PROBAAL applauds this type of project on suitable locations, as a clever dual-use of the land. However, the projects mentioned above differ from the project under discussion in a number of ways: they are small scale 1.5 + 1 MW as opposed to 83 MW proposed here. They also feed electricity directly to the local community, not the main grid and the land used was already agricultural; a 20 year old pig farm site and a vineyard in these cases. They did not therefore involve, destroying a large number of mature trees as would be in done in our local situation.

By PROBAAL from Algarve on 22-03-2021 11:39

4. A Chinese expert quoted in The South China Morning Post has explains that recycling is hard to make profitable because ‘If a recycling plant carries out every step by the book, their products can end up being more expensive than the raw materials.’
5. EPRI’s Cara Libby says ‘Either it becomes economical or gets mandated, but I’ve heard that it will have to be mandated because it won’t ever be economical.’ PROBAAL hopes that there are advances in recycling soon!

With regards to the aquifer: Science knows that areas with trees normally encourage rainfall by creating micro climates, whilst removing trees has the opposite effect, of reducing rainfall. Less rainfall could promote desertification, which is not a process we need to encourage in the dry Algarve and certainly not on 2 square kilometres of land that forms part the water catchment area of an aquifer. Our current ‘solutions’ to global warming and water crisis are not good solutions if they cause additional problems in the long term. Our ‘have now, pay later’ attitude to the environment is why we are in this mess in the first place.

By PROBAAL from Algarve on 22-03-2021 11:38

Andreus from the solar industry, you have raised a number of points which deserve responses and once you have read these, hopefully you will agree that this is not "fake news".
It is true that there is a variety of solar panels now made, in terms of composition, ranging from those with heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic to those without, as this fact sheet illustrates:
As there are non-toxic options available, it would be good to have assurances that Iberdrola is proposing to use non-toxic types in any installations.
With regard to recycling old photovoltaic panels, although this is technically possible, PROBAAL understands that it not yet easy or profitable and therefore the majority are not currently recycled. A well-documented and detailed explanation of why, may be found in the Forbes magazine article May 2018: ‘If Solar Panels are so clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste’.
Some points around recycling extracted from the article:
1. The situation has been summarised by an industry expert as follows: The problem of solar panel disposal ‘will explode with full force in two to three decades and wreck the environment’ because it ‘is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle’.
2. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has projected that the amount of solar panel waste could reach 78,000,000 metric tonnes worldwide by 2050.
3. Environmental Studies Professor Dustin Mulvaney observes that PV modules are not easy to recycle, because although most are 90% glass, ‘this glass often cannot be recycled as float glass because of impurities. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony’

By PROBAAL from Algarve on 22-03-2021 11:37

Iberdrola is offering “€600 per month (€3,000 per year), for 10 years”,

strange arithmetics

By kurt debruyne from Other on 19-03-2021 02:27

Full disclosure, I work in Solar, so I may be biased here but solar modules don't use heavy metals and can be recycled almost entirely with a healthy profit, so this really is fake news. The parks are also quite neutral to the environment as the ground is not sealed anywhere and during their operation vegetation is just maintained low enough not to shade the modules, so I fail to understand how this would impact the aquifer. Plus, they shade the ground and create a more humid and diverse microclimate. Also, lots of examples of solar parks being biodiversity reserves in the news, integrating with agriculture, just google it. Apart from the fight against climate change which will have a much higher impact on aquifers worldwide and where solar technology will have to ramp up drastically during the next years, I would say solar is a lot better than another forest of plastic of greenhouses operated with below poverty line immigrant labour which probably would be the only other option for the terrain owners to make some money off their properties in this depressed economy. Maybe this is just another case of "not in my backyard"? Or does PROBAAL intend to pay the terrain owners for doing nothing?

By Andreas from Algarve on 19-03-2021 09:55
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