Mġarr residents protest giant solar farm that splits town ‘with massive village of glass’

Mġarr solar farm equal in size to seven football grounds, residents protest loss of countryside, developers claims site is a quarry in bid to obtain permit for large-scale solar farm

The field on Triq il-Banjijiet where the solar farm would be built on
The field on Triq il-Banjijiet where the solar farm would be built on

An enormous solar farm resting on greenhouses is being proposed on an area of land the size some seven football pitches in an area known as Tar-Ragħad, along Triq il-Banjijiet in Mġarr.

A total of 6,023 solar panels are being proposed on top of greenhouses covering 43,000 sq.m.

The project by the Electrofix Group is being proposed in the area between Mġarr proper, and Żebbiegħ on one side and Binġemma on the other.

The planning policy regulating the development of 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.

The rural policy, which regulates agricultural development like greenhouses, only foresees the erection of small-scale photovoltaic panels on rural buildings, including greenhouses. But any PV installation which occupies a footprint larger than 1,000sq.m and located on ODZ land, should be regulated by the provisions of the solar farm policy.

Although the land consists of fields and garigue and its use is marked as agricultural in the application form presented by the applicant, a project statement by the developers described the site as a “quarry” and “an empty plot of land, currently not being used”.   

According to the data presented in a land survey, the depth of the site varies from 107m above sea level on the west, to 124m on the east side of the site.

The project architect describes the impact of the project on land use as  “moderately positive” because it will “give a beneficial use to the land” while improving air quality for the whole country by reducing emissions from fossil fuels. Moreover after the expiry of the solar farm’s lifetime, “the site can be returned to its original state as it was before any works had been carried out”.

But Mġarr residents are protesting against the proposed solar farm. “I often go for walks with my family through the passage there and we have come across wildlife like hedgehogs, rabbits, snakes and lizards as well as birds and insects. I am also aware of a bee colony nearby where local honey is harvested. This project will have an irreversible effect on this wildlife,” one of the objectors said.

Other residents referred to the presence of arable land, garigue habitats, archaeological remains, a girna, carobs and other trees. Another objector warned that the proposed development “will literally split the village with a massive village of glass”

Most solar farms approved since 2013 have been located in quarries or former landfills. These include the already-approved Bengħisa solar farm constructed on 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 Mġarr, 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.

The only exception has been an 11,500sq.m solar farm at Fiddien in Rabat. The Planning Authority’s board has recently turned down an application for a 9,971sq.m of land outside the development zone along Triq Mġarr in an area known as Ta’ Lelluxa.

But despite the policy restrictions, over the past year a number of solar farms have been proposed in the open countryside in a number of locations including Mosta, Magħtab and Manikata. The Environment and Resources Authority has objected to the solar farm proposed on two massive greenhouses in Manikata describing the development as “excessive” in the open countryside.