Lack of transparency and dialogue in mega solar plants in the south of the country

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Amnesty International Portugal accuses the government of lack of transparency and absence of dialogue with the populations in the promotion of photovoltaic plants projects in Alentejo and Algarve, in a document that reveals concerns of the local economy.

Amnesty International (AI) Portugal’s research “Mega solar power plants: When the “green” transition is not fair” highlights the “contestation among the populations” to the mega projects underway in the south of the country.

According to the organization, civic movements have challenged the advance of these projects, including in the courts, for fear that the rights of the people and the sustainability of the territory are at stake, and not only economically.

One of the projects targeted in the report is the Fernando Pessoa Photovoltaic Plant in Santiago do Cacém, promoted by the Spanish electricity company Iberdrola.

“If it goes ahead, it will be the largest in the country and in Europe. It will occupy more than 1,200 hectares and its construction implies the felling of more than one and a half million trees. It is not only the scale of this mega plant that is causing social and environmental alarm, but also the choice of land that, in this and other cases, covers areas classified as National Ecological Reserve (REN) and National Agricultural Reserve (RAN),” says AI in the report released today.

According to the document, the criterion for the location of the plants is the proximity to high voltage lines, which can inject the energy produced into the grid, neglecting social and environmental impacts.

AI Portugal also questions the ‘green light’ given by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) to the two plants planned for the Alentejo – there is also one projected for the parish of Cercal – since its location seems to coincide with areas considered sensitive by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action.

“Further south, in the Algarve, another project that is also creating controversy because of its location is in the process of public consultation. The future Estói photovoltaic plant will cover the municipalities of Faro, Olhão, São Brás de Alportel and Tavira. According to the civic association Probaal, most of the 156 hectares will be implemented in the National Ecological Reserve,” adds the AI report.

AI Portugal, which heard local businessmen, producers and farmers, whose land and activities will be neighbors of the planned plants, points out the concerns with the impacts on soil and aquifer reserves, noting that the Algarve plant is planned “for a valley that is an aquifer recharge area, with direct impact on streams and on water storage in the soil.

Based on information obtained from local civic movements, AI Portugal also mentions a lack of transparency in the process, due to the difficulty of access to documents, which, when it happens, is in a technical language that makes it difficult for the population to participate.

It also criticizes the lack of publicity of the public consultation processes, which came to the attention of the citizens when almost a month had passed for the collection of contributions and without any disclosure by the municipalities about the existence of an ongoing process.

About the environmental impact assessments, AI Portugal “calls attention to the way these instruments are being used and to the potential disrespect of the rights of populations, of the environment (as stated in Article 66 of the Portuguese Constitution) and of international law itself.

“AI Portugal recognizes the advantages of solar energy over energy obtained from fossil fuels, but calls for plans for the country to be able to involve the entire population, in an inclusive and transparent way. AI believes that respect for human rights and climate justice are only possible if solutions are able to keep the focus on sustainability and the horizon on the planet we want to leave to future generations,” concludes the document.

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