This plan, headed by Iberdrola Renewables S.A., that’s under contention would see the construction of a massive solar energy plant at Cerro do Leiria, Barrocais and Cerro das Ondas, the organisation’s press release on the meeting states, all of which fall under Tavira municipality. The plant would cover 154 acres in land with 175 thousand solar panels producing 84MWh.

The issues arise when you consider that this location is in a National Ecological Reserve – a REN area. The company responsible for this project presented a Non-Technical Paper which summed up the Environmental Impact Study they conducted, and according to that, there have been “250 species identified in the study area, 46 of which are RELAPE species and 27 of which are exotic species.” RELAPE stands for rare, endemic, localised, threatened or at risk of extinction. This PROBAAL considers to be “one of the obvious reasons why this land and its natural heritage should be protected and not decimated to install 175 000 panels,” according to the press release issued by the environmental organisation on the matter.

The other major environmental concern comes from the potential disruption to the natural infiltration system that feeds the Peral-Moncarapacho aquifer, “which provides water to thousands of people through boreholes, wells and the public grid,” according to PROBAAL. “The rocks and vegetation on the surface help water penetrate the clay soil during rainy periods and refill the aquifer.”

The final danger comes from the risks associated with the “storage of 14MW in lithium-ion batteries,” which carry with them a heightened risk of self-combustion, as “there are inflammable electrolytes stored in the battery cells. These lithium-ion batteries are known to suffer from a thermal leak during faulty conditions, which results in a rapid increase in temperature and battery cell pressure along with the release of inflammable gas.”

PROBAAL brought up all these issues to Ana Paula Martins, the mayor of Tavira, and her council members, explaining their concerns with the project. In response, the council reassured that they also felt the project was “too big, proposed in an inadequate location and that the risks of the aquifer and underground waters are numerous.” The municipal president confirmed the local government “had already manifested its position in the Preliminary Audition,” which ended on June 26th, the press release reads.

The council also shared PROBAAL’s concerns on the dangers related to the 14 MW lithium-ion battery storage, tech which is new to the region. “The way to fight any thermal leakage depends on the type of chemicals used. There’s special equipment that lets you measure these gases, but in case of a fire, neither the Firemen nor Civil Protection have the means or technical training to combat this type of environmental disaster,” the activist organisation explained the limitations of the region’s current infrastructure which prevents these batteries from being viable. “A fire or chemical product leak from the battery storage could cause catastrophic pollution to the underground water system below. If a fire were to happen, the water used to extinguish it could cause irreversible damage as it would take pollutants with it into the aquifer, contaminating the food chain.”

Ana Paula Martins told PROBAAL that she had suggested to Iberdrola Renewables S.A. as early as their first meeting two years ago to find another location in Tavira municipality. With 600 square kilometres of territory to work with, the mayor is sure there are more adequate spots, with already cleared land, equally exposed to sunlight, but far from population centres and underground water systems.

The Portuguese Environment Agency itself, according to PROBAAL’s report on the situation, had already asked Iberdrola Renewables S.A. to present adequate alternatives, but the company has not done so yet.

PROBAAL pointed out that according to the Decree-Law nº93/90, article 4, “In the areas included in REN, public or private initiative actions that translate to subdivision operations, urbanisation works, building construction, hydraulic works, roads, landfills, excavations and destruction of plant cover is forbidden.” For this reason, the organisation questions why the Portuguese Environmental Agency has allowed the project to come this far in the first place.

Citizens and organisations will have until the 20th of July to make their opinions heard on the matter as the Estoi Photovoltaic Solar Centre goes into public consultation. This can be done on the Participate website: