"RENOWABLES YES BUT NOT ON THAT WAY"
Malaga is well known for its good and sunny weather. Not only tourists know this, but business, too. For the time being, renewables are a good business, with millions of euros coming from the EU to help the green transition to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by the UN. Investors funds see the renewable sector as a safe place to put their money. By far, there are too many projects that endanger the Spanish lifestyle in rural areas. A grassroots movement has popped up requesting an extension to reshape the law and protect the local people against the greed of foreign corporations.
In Almogia, a tiny village in Malaga, there is a petition in Change.org with over 1,500 signs; what is remarkable given its population is 3,792 people. There are 120 plans that cover over 850ha (8,500 square km), only one of these projects is over 250 ha. To put it in perspective, it would be approximately like 360 football grounds. We speak with Enrique Armijo Martinez, councilor for Adelante Almogia, the opposition group in the council. He leads this initiative by submitting pleas.
At the moment, the council rejected his petition because the urbanistic law had been not approved in the first place due to a lack of regulation of its environmental impact. But, leaving apart politics clash, it’s clear that the village residents are not entirely convinced that the utterly necessary energetic transition is ongoing. Armijo explain to us what’s going on?
The Green Bee: Hello Mr Armijo, thank you very much for speaking to me. Firstly, can you explain to us what’s going on?
Enrique Armijo: Hello Juanele, it’s my pleasure. The thing is that we see by far too many solar projects. For example, just in Malaga, we are aware of 120 projects. If all these projects were ahead, it would produce up to 4 times the province demand. It’s nonsense!
Furthermore, the new regional government wrote in a rush the law which covers the energetic transition. Also, under pressure from the energy lobby, the final draft is very simple, with low requirements control. It gives free access to speculative projects that don’t take into account the social context, the municipal features, or even what the council says.
Therefore, overnight the councils are overwhelmed with the number of projects and have no technical or professional capacity to deal with it as they are small councils with limited resources.
TGB: But they want to set solar panels what, in theory, is a good thing. So what it’s wrong with it?
E.A.: In a context of climate crisis , we are in favour of renewables, but not in that way. All the power proposed would mean 13 or 14 times more energy than the committed with Europe regarding the Sustainability Goal Developments 2030.
The thing is that these promoters are being a bit dodgy. They split a giant solar park into several smaller plants that they submit under different front companies, which belong to the same group. But, most importantly, they share infrastructures and evacuation lines for energy. So, they are just one big project. Why do they do that? Well, because under the law, if the project is under 50Mw is a regional competence, otherwise would be the Government issue. So, they simply want to avoid deeper scrutiny from the state.
In addition, those parks will need a network of high tension poles to transport the energy. To do this network, they consider the use of land under “public service” rating. With that excuse, once the authorities approve the projects, they can expropriate the landowners without paying a fair price. Likewise, neighbours can lose their homes, and farmers get limited access to their land so these lines can get through.
Foreigns corporations speculate to sell the projects afterwards
TGB: Who is behind these projects?
E.A.: They are foreign investment funds speculating with the land, as happened during the building bubble in 2008. Again, they speculate with the land, but this time towards energetic projects. They submit plans, and when it is approved, they sell it to the big electrics corporations.
In this case, they are looking for the most extension of land possible to produce more energy to export to third countries, so we will not even use it.
We ask to start in cities where the big consumers of energy are. We should approve some laws to cover public buildings roofs with photovoltaic panels and in industrial estates.
Having said that, it’s worth remembering that bubbles use to have corruption cases inside. At the moment, there are in the court several cases of influence peddling and prevarication to favour this sort of mega-projects.
TGB: So, if these mega-projects leave the local residents behind, what is your proposal?
E.A.: We support individual installations to encourage self-consumption. Firstly, these mega-projects have to transport the energy long distances, as they usually are away from the final consumer, and this means that a lot of energy will get lost on the way. So by no means it’s efficient.
It makes sense to allow -or to compel- closer projects in every roof available. It will reduce the demand for energy from the national grid. If these mini-projects had attached isolation schemes, they would tackle fuel poverty in many homes. There are grants to help this transition, though maybe it’s not broadly known, and it has not enough funds. People are aware of climate change, and they are on board with this transition.
TGB: You mention earlier those projects would affect farmers and agriculture, which is crucial for the local economy. Would not these projects create new jobs?
E.A.: No, really. For example, they can set a park of over 50 Mw with an area of 120 hectares in one year according to the plans that are in progress. It doesn’t need to move a lot of lands; it’s just clear and flatten the ground and begin to set the panels up. Also, it wouldn’t create a qualified job because most companies will bring their technicians. Perhaps it would create some jobs in terms of security and maintenance, but nothing meaningful.
In fact, our proposal of encouraging many more panels in smaller installations would create more jobs. It’s not the same one company carry on one a single project that devastates a massive amount of land for setting just one farm, that many companies installing a thousand solar panels.
TGB: Farmers would be one sector highly affected by these parks. What would you tell the landowner who may see higher income letting corporations set solar panels rather than traditional agriculture?
E.A.: To avoid farmers need to rent their land, we should tackle the fair price of raw material in the first place and prevent the benefits end up in the middle person. Because of that, the European pantry is being spoiled, and farmers have to compete with foreign markets from China, Marocco or South America.
Also, these products have a better price as the workforce is cheaper and the environmental control in terms of pesticides and fertilizers is weaker. If we want to have a well-balanced diet and healthy products, we have to look after our farmers.
TGB: Well, just for finishing, what do you think it’s going to happen with your campaign?
E.A.: We can not stop everything by legal pleas, I’m afraid. But, despite the strong opposition of residents, it probably will go ahead with some environmental measures agreed between the parties involved. So we should keep urging the administration to be reasonable and don’t fall under the lobbies pressure.
We are in favour of renewables, but not in that way. There are alternatives much less aggressive. Hence, when there is no single roof available in cities we can start to think to set more panels in the countryside, meanwhile let’s begin in cities to reduce the demand and erase contaminant sources.