Portugal’s misnamed Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, João Matos Fernandes, recently approved a 15-hectare photovoltaic park that requires the destruction of 1,079 mature and productive cork oaks.
The municipal Council in Gavião (Portalegre) has stated that it recognises the “municipal public interest” of the project, which will contribute to “compliance with national and European Union goals in the fields of energy from renewable sources and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Minister highlights “the importance and high economic investment of the enterprise” for the northern Alentejo, stressing that it is an investment of approximately 95 million euros that is of “essential public utility.”
The Government’s announcement adds that the project has already been the subject of an environmental impact assessment which has been approved - by the government.
The project was submitted by Amargilha, Unipessoal, Lda., whose directorate says it agrees to improve 75 hectares of nearby cork oaks and renovate some rustic buildings in local parishes.
The environmental organisation, Quercus, states that the photovoltaic plant does not serve the public interest at all, and that already it is briefing its lawyers.
To the north of Gavião, Penamacor Council has announced “a mega photovoltaic solar park, for an investment of around 175 million euros,” also claiming the project is “in the public interest” despite 347 hectares being covered with 475,226 solar panels. This installation is less destructive to the established trees as only 54 cork oaks and 395 holm oaks will be destroyed.
Penamacor Council will receive 900,000 euros over 30 years for granting land use rights.
Portugal’s government, national and local, appears to have decided that the natural landscape must make way for photovoltaic parks.
With many hydro-electric dams on limited hours due to drought, and the overuse of water by red fruit producers in the south-west Alentejo, wind and wave power present more sustainable energy production alternatives which do not cover the countryside with PV panels.
Especially at odds is the choice of certain sites for these projects, including those which reduce local property values, are home to productive forests with a local amenity value, and which provide a haven for indigenous wildlife.
Written by Paul Rees