The first agrivoltaic plants arrive

The Catalan Administration is processing the first agrovoltaic solar parks, installations in which renewable energy production will be made compatible to be sold to the grid with agricultural crops.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 September 2023 Saturday 11:48
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The first agrivoltaic plants arrive

The Catalan Administration is processing the first agrovoltaic solar parks, installations in which renewable energy production will be made compatible to be sold to the grid with agricultural crops. There are projects that have this consideration following the strict criteria defined in an instruction approved by the General Directorate of Agriculture of the Generalitat, but others are promoted as a voluntary collaboration and without the restraint of this legal definition. Let's look at three projects in development in Catalonia.

One of the most advanced initiatives is promoted by the company Energies Renovables Terra Ferma in Montblanc, where the “La Romiguera” plant has obtained the environmental green light, located on a 17.5 hectare property – between the highway and the AVE line. , majority owned by Cimalsa, a company of the Generalitat.

Here, energy production and the organic cultivation of cereals and legumes will be combined, along with aromatic herbs with a pollination area and a biodiversity refuge free of pesticides and contaminants, as explained by Joaquim Miñano, director of operations at BluePROM, which participates in the project together with Sinia Renovables (Banco de Sabadell).

Equipped with 10,864 panels and a maximum elevation of 4.5 meters high, it will produce the electricity consumption of some 1,400 families.

But for the promoters it has not been a bed of roses. There was nothing to suggest that this project was going to encounter obstacles (as it was not land without agricultural use). However, when the land was studied, as required by regulations, it turned out that it was of high value (agrological category II), which means that it was prohibited from solar energy, unless measures were introduced to make it compatible with agriculture. under the technical advice of the Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries (IRTA).

20% of the total investment is open to the economic participation of the citizens of the municipality, who can make a contribution through the Tutambé.com platform.

A second example. On September 1, the Department of Climate Action granted administrative authorization to the solar park in Vilagrassa (Urgell, 0.9 MW), the first project to complete this process as an agrovoltaic park considering the strict requirements of the technical instruction of Agriculture.

Promoted by the KM0 company, its general director, Santiago Martínez, explains that the decision to promote the agrovoltaic solar installation was unexpected because it was conditioned by “the requirements of Agriculture”, since the land was considered as agrological category II soil; Therefore, the only way out for them to produce green electricity was to accept the limitations and be under the tutelage of IRTA.

Their initial intention was – he explains – to build a normal solar park, but since Agriculture “imposed the restriction”, they were encouraged to explore this avenue of innovation and maintain the project, instead of giving up” in the hope of learning from the background. known in France, says Martínez.

However, there is no date to start the works, as it will depend on whether a subsidy arrives, possibly from the Generalitat, since "a park like the one we are designing is worth twice as much as a normal one," he adds. The work (with a budget of 1.5 million euros) becomes more expensive because with the new demands that have arisen, it must raise pylons at 5 meters and also place all the facilities at that height.

For all this, Martínez misses a premium for the sale of electricity, as is given in France for these experimental projects. And another setback: “We have spent a year looking for someone to grow the apple tree; and in the end we found a farmer who will take him to us,” he emphasizes.

In the same way, the company Eguzki Solarcat promotes a 16 hectare solar park in Els Valentins, Ulldecona district (Montsià), where it hopes to make its operation compatible with an orchard and obtain electricity production equivalent to the electricity consumption of about 4,100 families. . Here there are no lands of great agricultural value, so the agrivoltaic project is not subject to the instructions of Agriculture, as it has been a voluntary option.

The solar plant will be organized leaving empty streets seven meters wide between the rows of plates. “These types of projects will not allow us to have a field of experimentation,” says engineer Salvador Salat. “In some vineyard fields in France it has been seen that when solar radiation is reduced, the grapes do not ripen as much, they have less sugar and fewer degrees of alcohol, so the wine has more quality,” he says.

The garden here will be another complement to a project designed to create a model of good neighborliness, says Salat.

“We don't earn a single euro more with the garden but we don't want to lose either,” adds Salat.

“We give the field to the farmer so that he can work the garden and all the benefit he obtains will be his,” he emphasizes. Although 90% of the electricity will be sold to the grid, the creation of a local energy community is promoted, so that neighbors within a 500-meter radius “would obtain electricity at cost price” and irrigators are invited to participate. Thus, thanks to this alternative energy they would be able to stop paying the high energy cost that is now involved in extracting water from the well.