Portugal’s largest PV project falls under scrutiny


From pv magazine Spain

The Administrative and Fiscal Court of Beja, Portugal, is currently reviewing the environmental authorization that the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) has granted to a 1.2 GW solar power project planned for the municipality of Santiago do Cacém, about 200 kilometers south of Lisbon.

The project developers are Spanish utility Iberdrola and Spanish PV project developer Prosolia.

“The Prosecutor's Office has not paralyzed anything,” an Iberdrola spokesperson told pv magazine, in response to media articles reporting that the project was at risk.

The Central Department of State Litigation and Collective and Diffuse Interests (DCCEICD) filed a lawsuit in January at the Administrative and Fiscal Court of Beja (Portugal) against the approval awarded by APA for the Fernando Pessoa Photovoltaic Plant.

The reason for filing the public appeal is the evaluation of the licensee's non-compliance with a wide range of territorial management requirements and legal regimes for the protection of natural resources,” said a note published on the website of the Attorney General's Office of the Republic of Portugal. “The administrative act in question is filed against the environmental impact assessment authority, in this case APA, with the project promoter company as counterparty.”

Environmental impacts

“The promoter of the project is Sunshining S. A. In December 2023, the ProtegeAlentejo Association filed another lawsuit against the promoter and the APA to challenge the DIA, but to date no decision has been made,” Liliana Silva, spokesperson for ProtegeAlentejo,  said on social media on Monday.

The association was formed by a group of residents of São Domingos and Vale de Água who oppose the construction of the Fernando Pessoa Photovoltaic Plant.

“The environmental impact study ignored a number of factors that should have been studied, human health is just one of them. The impact that the largest photovoltaic plant in Europe will have on the health of the surrounding population has never been studied and does not even seem to be a topic that the APA has analyzed,” ProtegeAlentejo stated.

The complainants have said that the environmental approval was granted despite the contrary opinion of the project evaluation commission, which includes representatives of the APA, among other institutions.

The APA decided to give the green light to the project, although the authorization was conditional on some changes. Thus, it was proposed to reduce the fenced area to a maximum of 1,000 hectares, which would also reduce the area covered by panels by 17%. It was also proposed to reduce the area of eucalyptus trees that would be cut down by 120 hectares, and increase the distance between the area occupied by the panels and the nearest homes, preserve the riverside corridors, with a strip of up to 30 meters wide on each side, and guarantee a protection strip of 500 meters for the roosting of the wood pigeon.

Following the modification of the project presented by Iberdrola, the APA concluded that “the proposed reduction makes it possible to minimize, even partially, the significant to very significant negative impacts identified in terms of environmental factors crucial for the evaluation of the project, such as land use, socioeconomics, ecological systems and landscape.”

Iberdrola's spokesperson said that “everything requested has been fulfilled,” and added that the project has access to the network contracted with Portuguese grid operator REN, and approval issued by APA, as well as insured land in Santiago de Cacem. “Iberdrola strictly followed all the processes defined for the development of the project,” the energy company claimed.

Energy supply

ProtegeAlentejo said on Dec. 6 that the project would already have a buyer for the energy it produced, the “SINES 4.0” data center promoted by Start Campus, in Sines. The SINES 4.0 project is expected to be 100% green and when completed, in 2027, and to have 495 MW of total capacity. Iberdrola has told pv magazine that “we do not have any agreement with Start Campus, promoters of the SINES 4.0 project in Sines.”

The APA is at the center of the alleged corruption plot that led to the resignation of the Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, despite the fact that judge did not see corruption in the case that led to his resignation. The previous president of the Agency, Nuno Lacasta, resigned from his position after being accused in the so-called Operaçao Influencer, for the alleged irregularities committed to expedite some projects including SINES 4.0, together with former State Secretary for Energy João Galamba.

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