Plans for a solar farm north of the Roman ruins of Acinipo near Ronda were revealed last Friday by energy company Cepsa. This large-scale project involves the construction of a 150-hectare solar power plant, the size of 150 football pitches, which would be able to generate electricity for a significant proportion of Malaga province.
The project is one of the most advanced of its kind in the area, and has caused controversy with environmental groups and local residents.
According to the renewable energy division of the oil and gas company, the installation will have a combined capacity to produce 100 megawatts, capable of powering 64,000 homes.
The mega-park will be built on non-irrigated farm land (currently used for cereal production), but it will not affect the area's thriving wine industry. Between 20 and 30 private owners have been contacted, with a commitment to rent the land for a period of 30 to 35 years, once the project has been approved.
The land affected is mainly located north of the Acinipo site; the rest is in the neighbouring municipality of Montecorto.
Land of "low agricultural production"
Gerónimo de Angulo, the director of Cepsa's renewable development division revealed that the expected investment would be 62 million euros. The land affected is considered to be of "low agricultural production".
The project will create nearly 200 jobs for one year, and after construction, six positions for maintenance and security will be created. There will also be indirect employment opportunities. The scheme is still being processed after an initial public consultation from which various improvements have been collated, according to director Angulo. In addition, the plans are awaiting an environmental impact report and another consultation period.
The project is considered to have "urban compatibility" with Ronda's urban master plan (PGOU).
The director said that getting permission by the end of the year is an "optimistic" scenario, and that the project could be under way at the end of 2024.
Impact on the landscape
The most concerning aspect of the project for locals and organisations is the impact on the landscape. Cepsa's representative has tried to ease these concerns with various improvements to the plans after the first round of public consultation. Ronda town council's main worry was the plant's effect on the view of the Tajo gorge; this has led the plans to bury the high-voltage cables needed to distribute the electricity generated.
The new proposal states that the solar panels would be placed outside the boundaries of the Acinipo site (listed as a BIC - asset of cultural interest) to protect it and reduce the impact on sections of archaeological interest.
The voltage has been reduced from 400 kV to 220 kV to be able to increase the sections of cable laid underground which will cover nearly four kilometres. This will avoid overhead cables through the Grazalema Natural Park and will not have any impact on the view of Ronda's Tajo gorge.
Among the measures put in place by Cepsa to mitigate the social impact is the creation of an energy cooperative to reduce electricity bills for Ronda residents.
There are also sponsorship opportunities for improvement works on the Acinipo archaeological site and a scholarship programme for vocational training students, among other initiatives.
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