Bengħisa solar farm may stop leaching of toxins in water table

Quarry turned landfill earmarked for 8,000-panel solar farm

The erection of a massive solar farm at Bengħisa may put an end to the leaching of toxic waste in the water table, preliminary studies submitted by developers claim.

The solar farm of 8,000 solar panels set over 29,000sq.m is being proposed by Carmelo Hili, Joseph Hili and Marin Hili. After being used as a quarry the site had been used as a landfill for the disposal of pulverised fuel ash from the Marsa Power Station up until 1992.

Now a project development statement commissioned by the developers confirms that the rainwater percolating through the fly-ash residue in the site is ending up directly into the water table.

Moreover, the leaching of toxic waste substances may persist for hundreds of years.

Consequently, it is not considered practical to design waste disposal sites with bottom-liners and leachate collectors because such systems are unlikely to remain intact during the entire leaching period. To address this problem, a non-porous sheet will be placed underneath the geotextile-reinforced bed to prevent rainwater from percolating further into the ground.

The Environment and Resources Authority has exempted the project from an impact assessment because the environmental impacts are not deemed significant to warrant extensive studies.

The ERA imposed a number of conditions to protect seabirds from reflection of moon glare from the photovoltaic panels, which could result in disorientation leading to fatal collisions. All artificial lighting will include dimmable down-lighters and be controlled through motion sensors to avoid continuous lighting in the night.

The solar panels will also be installed at an angle of 10 degrees instead of the standard 30 degrees, to reduce visibility from neighbouring streets.

Preliminary studies indicate that the project will have a negative visual impact on the surrounding area even if this impact will be mitigated through extensive landscaping. Shrubs, olive trees and carob trees will be planted along the reconstructed rubble wall along the perimeter of the site.

The area is designated by the local plan approved in 2006 as a ‘Reserve Industrial Site’ and is directly adjacent to a Natura 2000 site and an ‘Area of High Landscape Value’.

The area, which lies in the vicinity of the Freeport, had been previously identified for warehouse development in a previous application presented by the Hilis, which has now been withdrawn.