President of the provincial authority, Francisco Salado. / SUR

Salado on solar: 'We are in favour of renewables, but not in this chaotic and disorganised way'

Councils are asking for help from the Diputación de Málaga because they want all these projects to be regulated, before they find themselves "buried" under solar panels

FRANCISCO JIMÉNEZ MALAGA.

"We are totally in favour of renewable energies and the potential for this country to be a European leader in generating green energy, but not just any old way. Not in this chaotic and disorganised manner, not if it means covering much of our municipalities in solar panels and, of course, not if goes against the criteria of the councils that are affected."

The president of the Diputación de Málaga, Francisco Salado, is categorical about the need to provide technical, legal and environmental support for the mayors who have requested assistance.

"We have given them the appropriate tools so they have the knowledge they need to make decisions about authorising or rejecting the applications for solar parks that have been presented to them. Of course, we believe that some projects do not seem suitable because of their environmental impact, and of course it seems to us that it would not be viable to put all of them into effect at the same time," he said.

When it comes to looking at who is responsible for the "chaos and disorder", Salado points directly to the government in Madrid. First, "because the lack of state regulation has favoured these large projects being divided up into smaller ones", and second "because it has created an enormous problem by creating a new bubble regarding renewable energies, especially solar power, and then it has kept out of the way when it comes to planning, organising and implementing the projects, leaving that problem for the regional authorities and the town halls to deal with".

He is also critical of the government for "leaving Andalucía out of the planning for new energy infrastructure which is key to the distribution of electricity. This has increased the problem of the concentration of solar and wind parks close to where the large existing transmission networks and distribution hubs are located, many of which are already at full capacity. This is what is happening in our province, where there have been a lot of private projects in areas which are highly sensitive from an environmental, tourism and also human point of view," he said.

Malaga is one of the Andalusian provinces which is growing fastest in generating electricity with renewable energies. There are currently 25 wind parks in Malaga and their turbines contribute 628 megawatts (MW) to the grid. Solar energy is less developed, although the two big solar parks in Teba; the ten or so solar farms (those which do not produce 10 MW) such as the ones in Ardales, Antequera, Campillos and Casabermeja; and the panels connected to the grid on the roofs of public and private buildings, inject another 211.5 MW into the grid, according to statistics from the Andalusian Energy Agency. This capacity could be multiplied by up to 28 if the hundred or so projects for photovoltaic parks that energy companies and investment funds have proposed in the province are approved.

Altogether, those would provide nearly 5,900 MW of power and cover about 10,000 hectares of land, mainly in the areas of the Serranía de Ronda, Guadalteba, Antequera and the Guadalhorce Valley. By way of reference, Gaucín currently has eight such projects on the table, Almogía six and Cañete la Real five.

Faced with such an avalanche of projects, due to the hours of sunshine, the shape of the land and the availability of EU funds for the construction of electricity generation plants using renewable energies, the councils are asking for a say in the decision-making process. Above all, they are asking for moderation, because under the current legislation they have little room for manoeuvre if the land chosen, which is mainly used for agriculture, is suitable for these parks to be installed.

Splitting projects up

Who has the final say? The national government, although when the electric power generated would be below 50 MW the government delegates the decisions to the regional administrations. The process is simpler for smaller projects, so promoters split the large ones up to beat the rules. For example, in Ronda, Cuevas del Becerro, Teba and Cañete la Real there are five projects with installations of 49.9 MW each.

"We are in favour of renewables and we are prepared to contribute our share, but what we are not going to accept is this disproportionate proliferation which wants to turn our municipality into a solar farm with eight huge parks," said the mayor of Gaucín, Pedro Godino, who, despite the income that would be generated through the IBI tax and the jobs that would be created during the construction, places the emphasis on the environmental impact.

His counterpart in Almargen agrees. This municipality covers barely 34 square kilometres and the projects presented so far, combined with the wind parks already installed, would mean that nearly one quarter of its land would be occupied by these installations.

"We are not against renewables, as you can see from the wind parks that we have, but we are surrounded by turbines and solar panels on the boundaries of neighbouring municipalities and if this goes ahead we will end up buried in solar panels," said Mari Carmen Romero. "What we ask is that they are not all in the same place and that they are distributed better because we have already contributed enough," she said.

Her town hall has approved an advance modification of the urban masterplan (PGOU), which will need to be authorised by the Junta de Andalucía, to try to gain time and some control, to "avoid putting at risk our cereal crops and our programme to bring the red-legged partridge back to this area," she said.

The attempts by councils to control all this range from changing their urban masterplans to submitting environmental impact reports. Given their lack of resources, nine of those most affected (Gaucín, Cañete, Almargen, Álora, Casarabonela, Nerja, Cartajima, Cuevas del Becerro and Campillos) have requested technical assistance from the Diputación (the Malaga provincial authority), which has recently drawn up files on about 30 projects amounting to 2,945 MW - this is half of those planned - as well as nearly 500 kilometres of high-voltage power lines.

Technical reports

These reports look at the territorial and environmental effects of the projects in relation to the habitats, wildlife, public woodlands, protected natural areas, livestock trails, landscape and public water resources.

Technicians from the Diputación's Environmental Delegation have found situations such as that of Cartajima, a village which would end up between two pylons; Almargen, where 25 per cent of its territory would be occupied by these infrastructures as well as being surrounded by other plants in neighbouring Teba and Cañete; and other places which would be affected indirectly by the route of the power distribution lines to the electrical substation.

The most striking case is that of three solar energy plants planned between Ronda, Setenil and Alcalá del Valle, each with a capacity of 102.7 MW. These projects would need an overhead power line to transfer the electricity; it would need to be 69.81 kilometres long and would pass through Ronda, Atajate, Jimera de Líbar, Benadalid, Benalauría, Algatocín, Benarrabá, Gaucín and, in Cadiz province, Jimena de la Frontera, San Martín del Tesorillo, Castellar de la Frontera and San Roque.