A unique battle is raging in the small municipality of Chiva these days, a battle of David and Goliath proportions, between a small municipal council and a large corporation. At its heart lies the world’s highest concentration of the unique carob tree…
It’s a no-brainer that harnessing solar power as a source of energy is great for the environment, right? Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences means that it’s not always that simple. A row brewing in Chiva demonstrates that even environmentally friendly projects can be harmful to nature.
A large portion of Chiva’s pastures has been designated for a gigantic solar plant, an investment by the energy conglomerate Falck Renewables, headquartered in Milan, Italy. In its press release, Falck paints a very nice picture. The company will purchase approximately 420 hectares of land, invest €110m and construct a massive solar plant capable of producing 125 megawatts of power, meeting the energy needs of an estimated 80,000 homes.
Chiva’s farmland was chosen as an area with low environmental sensitivity and agricultural yield, making it an ideal location for the project’s installation. To top it all off, the investor promised to put in place a special ‘Agrivoltaic’ strategy aimed at avoiding or minimising any type of environmental impact. It appears to allow for multiple uses of the land, combining solar energy generation alongside traditional agricultural productive use.
There are other benefits mentioned as well: 500 jobs will be created during the plant’s construction, and the council will earn €600,000 per year from IBI and IAE taxes. The plant will be used for 35 years before being decommissioned and returned to its original state.
So far, so great. So why are there dissenting voices from local residents and officials?
First, no one from Chiva was asked if they wanted this type of investment. By law, if a power plant’s capacity exceeds 50MW, the project must be negotiated directly with the Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition, not with the local city council. Furthermore, no public discussion is included in the process. And it would be very desirable, it appears. A whopping 73% of respondents are opposed to such an installation, according to a survey conducted by Chiva City Council.
Legal procedures aside, the biggest issue is the overall environmental impact of the operation. The solar farm will be built in an area with the world’s highest concentration of monumental and unique carob trees. Not only will many of these trees be uprooted (about 160 in the first phase), but it will also devastate the entire protected municipal area of Sierra de Chiva, having a huge negative impact on the health of the mountains. Many species, some of which are threatened with extinction, rely on the Chiva plains, and their survival would be jeopardised if this unique habitat were lost.
Faced with this prospect, the local City Council is working around the clock to prevent the project from starting. Carles Mulet, a senator from the Compromis party in La Comunidad Valenciana, offered much-needed help. Senator Mulet asked the federal government to halt the project and impose conditions that will prevent the area’s destruction in an emotional letter sent to the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.
In this letter he says: ”The carob tree is a tree that lives in complete harmony with people, producing a high quality ecological product without chemical treatments and meeting all sustainability criteria; creating a completely balanced habitat, favouring a great diversity of species, and offering us a genuine landscape of incalculable value.”
It is difficult to imagine the central government stopping this project: it bodes well if Spain wants to meet the EU’s renewable energy targets, so every MW counts. Furthermore, it is a substantial financial injection, with the funds coming directly from the EU. What is unclear is the Generalitat’s role in this entire story.
We’re only on chapter one, and there will be many more to come. The battle for Chiva and the carob tree is set to run and run, and it might yet turn out that the bark is tougher than the byte…
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