The Vega de Cañete la Real, in the countryside near Ronda, is one of the sites for the mega-parks. / C. C.

Why are people so against the 'boom' in solar energy parks?

Due to the availability of EU funds, town halls are being overwhelmed by applications for such projects amid concern about their downsides

There is increasing concern over the number of projects for solar and wind parks which are being presented to town halls in Andalucía, spurred on by the arrival of European funding and with the argument that they are moving towards an energy transition in which renewables are part of the solution because fossil fuels are running out.

Many people are worried about the massive, unregulated, uncontrolled implementation of these infrastructures and are asking for time for them to be planned properly. According to figures from the Junta de Andalucía, in Malaga in June there were 75 proposed projects of this type, of which 17 are in Ronda, says the council there.

In that town, an association called Asociación Salvemos los campos y los montes Serranía de Ronda has just been created by local residents, and is associated with the national ALIENTE Alianza Energética y Territorio. Raquel Elía, of the Ronda group, explains why there is so much mistrust about the situation, but she is keen to make it clear that nobody is against renewable energy themselves.

Enormous size

"These are mega-parks covering hundreds of hectares"

"We are not talking about small areas of solar panels. These are mega-parks, which would cover hundreds of hectares of land," says Elía, explaining that the larger the size, the greater the impact. She also says promoters are carrying out fragmententation fraud, by dividing the parks up. If they exceed 50 megawatts (MW), the environmental procedures they have to go through are more complicated and pass from the Junta de Andalucía to the government. In Cañete La Real, Teba, Ronda and Cuevas del Becerro, for example, there are five projects at 49.9 MW each, all from the same developer.

Loss of fertile land

"The top layer of soil is lost"

For Elía, another impact is the loss of fertile land. "When they install a mega-park, you lose the first layer of fertile soil which has taken thousands of years, so the vegetation doesn't grow," she says. The investors normally look for land which is accessible and close to urban centres, and this means that returning it to agriculture would be complicated.

Effects on water resources

"These parks need a great deal of water"

In order for the solar parks to operate, says the association, they consume a great deal of water so the effect on supplies is also of concern. "They need a lot of water to keep the solar panels clean and to produce green hydrogen, which uses water and electricity and which would also be produced... if not, then they would go to the Sahara, not here," Elía explains.

High voltage towers

"Two are planned in Ronda"

The concern is not only about the mega-parks themselves, but also about the infrastructure that comes with them, such as high voltage towers and substations to transport and divert the energy produced. In the case of Ronda two are planned, says this association. Silvema Serranía de Ronda, Ecologistas en Acción say Benahavís would become one of the reception points, so the cables would cross much of the Ronda region.

Deaths of birds and animals

"This is another serious impact"

Another reason people are against all these massive projects is the impact on wildlife, because wind generators are a direct cause of the deaths of birds. The solar panels also eliminate the habitats of other species. It should be noted that the Ronda area is a haven for wildlife. "This is another serious impact," says Elía.

Ruining the landscape

"They would affect tourism"

The impact of these mega-parks on the countryside in the Serranía de Ronda is also worrying the association. The area has a vast natural heritage which attracts a large number of tourists and this is vital for the economies of Ronda and the villages in the region. "It would definitely affect tourism," says the association. Even the Regulatory Board representing the Sierras de Málaga and Pasas de Málaga have expressed its opposition to the mega-parks, because many of them would be in the area in which the vineyards are located.

Possible expropriations

"You can end up losing the land you rented to them"

The Asociación Salvemos campos y montes Serranía de Ronda wants to emphasise this point: "This is already happening. These companies are very persuasive and they pay well for the rent (maybe 1,500 euros per hectare a year) but once they have succeeded in having the project classified as being for public utility, they can apply to take over the land. You can end up losing the land you rented to them and even adjoining land that wasn't part of the rental contract," says Elía.

She also points out that investment funds with an interest in speculation are often behind these projects, and that can complicate the agreements over the rental.

Compensation

Councils fear compensation claims of millions of euros

On the other side of all this are the councils, who have demanded more tools to enable them to decide on the locations of these mega-parks. They could face claims of millions of euros from the developers if they do not issue approvals on time. That is why they are applying for a moratorium, and the Malaga provincial authority, the Diputación, is supporting them. Some, like Campillos, are using the modification to their Urban Plan as a way to gain time.

Self-sufficiency

"We are looking at a historic opportunity"

The association from Ronda says we are "looking at a historic opportunity" to achieve self-sufficiency in contrast to the constant rise in electricity prices, and that areas such as roofs could be used for the installation of solar panels, managed by the councils or energy cooperatives, among others, against the present energy oligopoly.