Sunday 24 May 2020

Environmentally assessing implementation of a solar farm strategy for quarries 

Pictured above: Perit Joseph Scalpello, Planning Authority’s Assistant Director (second from left) with Ing Mario Schembri AIS’s Managing Director. Also in photo Michelle Borg PA’s Unit Manager and Sacha Dunlop, Departmental Head at AIS  

The Solar Farm Policy published in October 2017 sets out the fundamental criteria which the Planning Authority (PA) deems appropriate to guide the planning and design of solar farm development and the proper evaluation of applications for such schemes in the Maltese islands. 

The drastic reduction in PV panel prices, as a significant element in the renewable energy sources mix, has provided an alternative, cost-effective path for Malta to progress towards reaching its 10% of the 2020 Energy from Renewable Sources (RES) target. 

In this case, the 2017 policy gives priority for the development of solar farms in quarries, among other sites, to   mitigate their negative visual impact while providing an opportunity to generate green electricity. This policy applies to all quarries whether they are currently operational, inactive or disused. Quarries that have been restored before the date of adoption of this policy are not eligible for the development of solar farms.  

Solar farms are defined by the 2017 policy as any commercial  installation  with  a  footprint  larger than 1,000m2 being one consolidated and contiguous area included in one development application, not usually related to residential development, for the purpose of renewable energy generation by means of photovoltaic technology.

Quarries are considered to be prominent eyesores, especially within the low-lying localities of Mqabba, Qrendi and Siggiewi. The policy encourages the restoration of suitable quarries not only to mitigate their negative visual impact but, perhaps even more importantly, to provide an opportunity to generate green electricity. Restoration of abandoned or disused quarries may also lead to backfilling with inert construction waste, relieving alternative sites.

The approved policy also prohibits the development of solar farms in quarries within, or partly within or adjacent to Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Such sites shall only be considered following the completion of a plan-level Appropriate Assessment (AA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) procedure concluding that the Solar Farms Policy does not have a significant environmental impact, including on SACs and SPAs.   

For the 2020 target to be achieved, attention has now turned towards the option to utilise such quarries. As one of the requirements of the Solar Farm Policy and following a tender process, the PA has commissioned AIS Environment to carry out an Appropriate Assessment (AA) and a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). 

Consultation meetings with a wide range of stakeholders including Local Councils where quarries are located, Government ministries and entities, various faculties of the University of Malta, and a wide spectrum of NGOs are being organised.

In turn, the Strategic Environmental Assessment and Appropriate Assessment shall provide expert guidance for the potential environmental impacts of new solar farms and identify relevant mitigation measures  that  need  to  be integrated into solar farm development in quarries.

Through public consultation meetings, SEA’s initial outcomes will be shared with the largest number of stakeholders and public groups possible so that the the potential environmental impacts of solar farms in quarries  is extensively analysed in the light of this policy and a most comprehensive SEA is provided by AIS to the SEA Focal Point. The whole process is expected to be completed within 15 months.

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