10,500sq.m solar farm proposed on Mosta farmland

A massive solar farm covering over 10,500sq.m of land is being proposed outside development zones along Triq il-Kbira in Mosta

As proposed, 2,076 solar panels would be installed on five large green houses which would occupy 6,963sq.m of agricultural land
As proposed, 2,076 solar panels would be installed on five large green houses which would occupy 6,963sq.m of agricultural land

A massive solar farm of over 10,500sq.m of land is being proposed outside development zones along Triq il-Kbira in Mosta.

The land is on the outskirts of Mosta along the road leading to Rabat and Mgarr in the vicinity of Wied ta’ l-Speranza.

A proposed policy regulating solar farms limits such developments to used quarries, but a loophole in the rural development policy is being exploited to propose these developments on agricultural land.

As proposed, 2,076 solar panels would be installed on five large greenhouses which would occupy 6,963sq.m of agricultural land.

Both the Environment and Resources Authority and the PA’s internal advisory panel on agricultural issues are objecting to the proposal because the applicant – Brendan Borg – is not registered as a farmer and the site is not registered with the Department of Agriculture.

ERA is insisting that in the absence of proof of agricultural production, the proposal cannot be considered genuine to agricultural needs, as it appears that the large greenhouses with incorporated solar panels will operate as a solar farm. “The proposal is therefore considered objectionable from an environmental point of view.”

The Agriculture Advisory Committee requested a technical report on the effect of the proposed PV panels on the lighting intensity inside the greenhouses and therefore on the fruit/vegetables intended to be harvested.

ERA recently objected to the erection of 6,000 photovoltaic panels on two massive greenhouses in Manikata, describing the proposal as “excessive” and insisting such a development should ideally not be located in open countryside. In that case, the development was proposed by a registered farmer who owns a part of the site.

The policy regulating solar farms excludes such developments in agricultural areas. According to the policy, which is still awaiting final approval, “solar farms should not take up virgin land, or agricultural land”.    

In fact the policy steers solar farms towards areas of low landscape sensitivity like quarry sites.

A Strategic Environment Assessment is currently being conducted to assess the impact of the policy on 27 quarries located in Natura 2000 sites.

Most solar farms approved since 2013 have been located in quarries or former landfills. These include the already approved Bengħisa solar farm constructed on the site of a former dump, covering 29,000sq.m of land and producing a total of 2,400kWh of energy.

Another large private solar farm was approved on a 77,000sq.m backfilled quarry in Mgarr, beneath the Falka Gap ridge. The privately-owned farm includes 16,896 panels, generating 8.65 million units of clean energy per year, which are fed into the national power grid.

But a small number solar panels have been approved on the open countryside on top of greenhouses. The rural policy of 2014 encourages farmers to opt for greenhouse development to boost income through “intensive crop cultivation” and overcoming climatic constraints on fruit and vegetable production.

But no policy currently regulates ‘solar greenhouses’. The PA has already approved an 11,500sq.m solar farm at Fiddien in Rabat but refused another proposal in the sensitive area of Munxar in Marsaskala, where greenhouses were set to cover 4,000sq.m of land.

Over the past weeks, two other applications for greenhouse developments with overlying solar panels have been filed.

A 2.2MW photovoltaic plant was proposed by Electrofix Group on a 26,000sq.m plot of agricultural land, along Triq Burmarrad and Triq Is-Sardin in the Burmarrad hamlet.

A smaller ‘solar’ greenhouse which utilises eco-friendly aquaponics, is being proposed by Luxury Living Technology on 873sq.m of agricultural land along Mdina Road in Mgarr.

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