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Public Prosecutor's Office blocks major solar park in Alentejo

Photo by Mariana Proença at Unsplash

The Public Prosecutor's Office has challenged Spanish multinational Iberdrola's licence for the construction of Europe's largest solar power plant to be built in Santiago do Cacém, Alentejo.

Named after the poet Fernando Pessoa and with the motto "The Happy Sun is Shining", the project generated controversy due to its impacts, in some cases irreversible, on fauna, flora, vegetation and habitats.

After the promoters changed some aspects of the plant, namely with a view to reduce the number of trees felled and to not disturb a species protected by law, the wood pigeon, they obtained conditional approval from the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), subject to compliance with dozens of measures designed to mitigate the damage.

In its alegations, the Prosecutor's office claimed that the licence, granted by the APA at the end of January 2023, bypassed a wide range of territorial management instruments and legal regimes for the protection of natural resources".

In reply, Iberdrola guaranteed that it has "rigorously followed all the processes" in the investment of around 800 million euros.

With an area of around 1,000 hectares, Iberdrola's solar power park, projected in partnership with Prosolia, will involve the felling of around 1.5 million trees, mainly eucalyptus.

But for the Central Department of State Litigation and Collective and Diffuse Interests of the Public Prosecutor's Office, in the lawsuit it filed at the end of January in the Administrative and Fiscal Court of Beja, all the procedures were not complied with.

The project - worth around 800 million euros in investment - was already being contested by a residents' association, with ProtegeAlentejo claiming that the environmental impact statement was approved despite negative opinions from various organisations, such as the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests, the National Energy and Geology Laboratory and even the director of the agency's environmental impact assessment department.

Located in the municipality of Santiago de Cacém, near Sines, the infrastructure will have an installed capacity of 1,200 megawatts (MW) and should be operational by 2025, creating 2,500 jobs, "mostly by local workers", according to information shared in January by the promoting companies.

With regard to protecting biodiversity, Iberdrola explained that the land could be used by local shepherds as "pasture for raising sheep and beehives will be introduced, which will help to improve the stability of ecosystems and increase crop yields on the surrounding farmland". In addition, plantations will be set up around the infrastructure to replace the approximately 1.5 million eucalyptus trees that will be felled with native trees.

Iberdrola's Fernando Pessoa solar park - the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world - is part of the 3,000 million euros in investments in wind and solar energy planned for Portugal over the next few years.

It's worth pointing out that the President of the APA, Nuno Lacasta, resigned nearly two months ago after being involved in Operation Influencer that brought down the Socialist Government.

In that operation, investigators believe that he and the then Secretary of State for Energy João Galamba violated administrative and legislative procedures to enable the construction of a mega-data centre in Sines, the Start Campus.

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