Portugal to waive environmental impact studies for solar plants under 50MW

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Panellists at today’s Large Scale Solar event in Lisbon. Image: Solar Media.

Portugal will stop requiring environmental impact assessments for new solar projects with a capacity of under 50MW as part of government efforts to accelerate PV deployment.

That is according to Portugal’s secretary of state for energy, João Galamba, who said he recently received a letter from solar developers containing recommendations on measures to support new capacity additions in the context of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

After Portugal passed a new decree law in January that will speed up renewables permitting, Galamba said there will be more measures to accelerate it even further.

“I’m not saying that we followed all the recommendations, but we covered all the issues raised by the developers that wrote me asking for a long list of measures,” Galamba said at today’s Large Scale Solar event in Lisbon, hosted by PV Tech publisher Solar Media.

Environmental impact assessments for solar projects under 20MW proposed for “sensitive areas” in Portugal will also no longer be required, according to Galamba.

“Our objective is to decarbonise as fast as we can. For Portugal, it is a matter of national security to decarbonise fast,” he said.

Measures included in the new decree law have been welcomed by Portuguese solar players, with Miguel Lobo, country head Portugal at developer Lightsource bp, describing it as “progressive, innovative and forward-looking”.

With so many projects under development in the country, Lobo said this puts a lot of pressure on government entities as well as investors, developers and environmental consultants. “It’s very hard to find a skilled environmental consultant that carries out the environmental study according to the environmental agency standards. So that’s quite difficult.”

Despite the new legislation, João Amaral, chief technology officer and Portugal country manager at developer Voltalia, said the challenges he expects to continue will be around the connection with municipalities as well as issues around community acceptance of PV plants.

While it is different from region to region, it is up to project developers and independent power producers to explain how the technology works and what the long-term positive impacts are, he said, adding: “But it’s definitely quite a challenge that we see.”

According to figures from Portuguese renewable energy association APREN, PV plants totalling 311MW of capacity were added in 2021, up on the 153MW of solar added in 2020.

While the country is aiming to reach at least 9GW of PV deployed by 2030, APREN CEO Pedro Amaral Jorge said during the panel discussion that the country should aim higher given that some capacity will be used for hydrogen production.

He added: “I think we all understand that energy independence and security of supply actually needs to move faster.”

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