New solar farm policy could lead to generation of up to 50MW of electricity

The estimate is based on interest shown by the private sector in developing sites according to the policy’s specifications

Up to 50MW of electricity could be generated through solar farms
Up to 50MW of electricity could be generated through solar farms

The Planning Authority this afternoon launched a policy for the setting up of solar farms in Malta. During the policy’s consultation phase, an expression of interest was issued to determine private sector interest in setting up solar farms.

Architect Joe Scalpello said 70 applications had been received and, after taking into account the sites which were not excluded by the policy’s criteria, it was determined that up to 50MW of electricity could be generated.

Planning Authority chairman Johann Buttigieg said the policy was being launched in order to help Malta reach its EU2020 renewable energy targets. Malta has pledged to generate up 10% of its energy through renewable sources, and at 6% is currently 4% short of this target.

He noted that through schemes already introduced, Malta had saved some 80 tons of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Potential sites must have a 1,000sqm footprint, said Scalpello, adding that applications could not be submitted for domestic developments.

Moreover, he said that installations in industrial areas were also excluded from the policy since there were other schemes that covered such development.

He said that preferred locations included “large-scale” rooftops and open spaces.

“Taking car parks as an example, the carpark would remain and roof structure could be built that would be used for solar panels,” said Scalpello. “The idea is not to replace current usage but to have dual use.”

The policy, he said, also included ODZ sites that were already committed to some use or other, closed landfills, and quarries. In fact, most submissions by the private sector where for the use of quarries.

Quarries which fall within or adjacent to a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or a Special Protected Area (SPA) can only be considered after an Appropriate Assessment (AA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) conclude that the policy will not have a significant impact on the environment .  

The policy precludes solar farms from being set up in the open countryside, Natura 2000 sites, on garigue, in valleys, ridge edges or areas of archaeological, cultural or scientific interest. The policy document also dissuades sites where significant infrastructural works are required to connect the installation to the grid.

Fully aware that solar farms can create potential adverse visual impacts, the policy sets minimum design requirements. To be considered positively, a proposed solar farm should fit appropriately in the site topography with attention given to limiting the height of the panels above the surrounding terrain. Where possible, a solar farm’s ancillary infrastructure are to be placed underground and trenching works and access routes should be limited to existing paths.

To reduce the visual impact, appropriate landscaping should be carried out along the boundary.

Parliamentary secretary for the rental market Chris Aguis said that the policy was another step towards ensuring cleaner energy after the closure of Marsa power station and ending the use of heavy fuel oil.

This was echoed by energy minister Joe Mizzi who said that the policy was an essential part of the country's decarbonisation strategy and was tied to the government's energy road map being developed for the period 2020-2030.

Mizzi said that there had been an encouraging increase in the number of solar panels nationally, which had been facilitated through the issuing of a number of grants.  

“Although the amount of panels so far is encouraging, it  is not sufficient for Malta to reach its 2020 targets," he said, adding that the policy would hopefully lead to a greater contribution.

Ultimately, he said, the objective remained that of producing renewable energy, while finding a balance between suitable sites and protecting the environment.

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