Photo: Restored solar farms in quarries increase energy generated from renewable sources
Another important step forward in the implementation of the Solar Farm Policy for the Maltese Islands has been taken in recent days following the submission of the Planning Authority-commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of solar farms in quarries to the SEA Focal Point by AIS Environment. The SEA fulfils the policy requirement for a plan-level environmental assessment for all quarries that are within, partly within, or adjacent to Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). As part of this assessment, AIS explored a number of policy actions, design criteria and mitigation measures.
Published in October 2017, the policy sets out the fundamental criteria which the Planning Authority (PA) deems appropriate to guide the planning and design of solar farm sites and the proper evaluation of applications for such schemes. The policy gives priority to the development of solar farms in abandoned or disused quarries, among other sites, to mitigate their negative visual impact while providing an opportunity to generate green electricity. While 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.
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 per cent of the 2020 Energy from Renewable Sources (RES) target. For this target to be achieved, the PA turned its attention towards utilising quarries as solar farms for the purpose of renewable energy generation by means of photovoltaic technology.
While the Planning Authority already held an initial consultation meeting in June 2019 regarding the scoping stage, the PA is now opening a 6-week online consultation period about the submitted Environment Report for the SEA with a wide range of stakeholders and the public from Thursday 19 November to Thursday 31 December 2020. Stakeholders, including Local Councils where quarries are located, government ministries, authorities and entities, various faculties of the University of Malta, and a wide spectrum of NGOs are being invited to read the SEA report at https://www.pa.org.mt/en/consultation-details/sea-for-maltas-solar-farm-policy and submit their questions and feedback to the SEA_consultation@pa.org.mt
Furthermore, stakeholders and the public are invited to participate in a remote live consultation meeting that is being held on Wednesday 16 December 2020 at 14:30hr. Registrations for this live consultation meeting are being received from today until 12noon on Tuesday 15 December 2020 at: firstname.lastname@example.org. During the meeting, the PA will introduce the various aspects of the Solar Farm Policy, followed by an overview of the SEA report delivered by AIS Environment. Afterwards, AIS Environment experts will provide professional advice on the potential environmental impacts of solar farms in quarries.
In line with the requirements of the Solar Farm Policy, 27 quarries in both Malta and Gozo were examined as part of the SEA since they are located in proximity to protected Natura 2000 sites. 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 increase energy generated from renewable sources, thereby reducing the demand on the Delimara Power Station, while contributing to the decrease in dependability on imported energy sources. Restoration of abandoned or disused quarries may also lead to the added benefit of backfilling them with inert construction waste, relieving alternative sites.