Photovoltaic solar energy has become one of the greatest objects of desire for both large energy groups and all types of investors. A furor that in the Valencian case has resulted in an avalanche of applications after a long hiatus in the sector and that the regional government approved a rule to try to speed up its procedures and meet the objectives for climate change.
At the center of this battle to achieve the best locations is an enclave that has been historically strategic due to its location: Villena. Located in the interior of Alicante, it borders the provinces of Valencia, Murcia and Albacete.
More than thirty promoters have presented their projects to build large parks of solar panels in the second municipality by extension of their province, according to the City Council itself. Interested parties include large specialized operators such as SolarCentury or Elio X, energy giants such as Iberdrola, Repsol and EDP, or investment firms and funds such as Helia.
Some plans that can have a strong economic impact for a municipality with about 34,000 inhabitants. elEconomista has been able to identify 13 projects in different stages of processing that add up to a power of nearly 1,000 megawatts (MW) with a planned investment of more than 600 million euros altogether.
The largest of these projects unveiled so far is a 165 MW plant promoted by SolarCentury with a budget of 115 million euros. An installation that will occupy 350 hectares and will entail the creation of 400 jobs during the works. In the case of Iberdrola, the historic operator of the Valencian Community, its photovoltaic energy plans throughout the region, which in addition to a power plant in Villena also include facilities in Ayora and Cofrentes with more than 400 MW, will suppose 1,450 jobs during the construction.
What are the reasons that have made Villena the Valencian epicenter of this investment hunger? The area has technical factors in its favor, such as hours of solar radiation per year and weather conditions. One example of this is that it houses the only thermosolar plant in the region, Enerstar Villena, a facility that involved nearly 200 million in investment and was inaugurated in 2014.
Another of the strengths of this area is the existence of electrical networks with the capacity to absorb the new energy generated by these plants. In the region there are two important electrical substations, Beneixama and Sax, which have significantly expanded their facilities in recent years. This has meant that the developers have been able to request access points for the discharge into the grid of the electricity generated by their new plants and ensure the connection, in the face of existing problems in other areas.
The rights of access to the network for the discharge of electricity is one of the access barriers that will eliminate a part of the projects. “We understand that not all of the projects will be carried out, probably in the best of cases a third will be carried out, because some do not even have the rights to discharge to the transport node”, explains Javier Martínez, Councilor for Urbanism of Villena.
Rejection in other municipalities
In practice, there are already some of the projects presented that are receiving negative reports in the process, either due to defects in the environmental declaration or due to allegations. This same month the Official Gazette published the negative environmental impact statement for a project of a 4 MW plant on 8 hectares that was presented in 2019, when a part was located on land that included a Special Bird Protection Zone (ZEPA).
The proliferation of applications for macroparks has generated reactions of very different types in the municipalities. Faced with the frontal rejection in some municipalities, the municipality of Villena defends a more “possible” position, aware of the need to develop solar parks to increase the presence of renewable energies, but also taking into account their impact.
When you see the map of all the projects, it is difficult to do all of them in a sustainable way,” acknowledges the head of Urban Planning. For this reason, it is committed “because it is not necessary to evaluate each one of the projects individually, but to take into account as a whole to decide which have a better landscape and environmental integration”.
Criticism from environmentalists and farmers to the large expanses of solar panels has spread as the projects are made public. In the neighboring municipality of Castalla, the City Council rejects macroplants and has announced regulatory changes to limit where to install them.
In the case of Villena, the landowners have welcomed the offers. “In most cases, the owners of agricultural land either no longer exploited it or have leased it to third parties for agricultural uses, which cannot compete with the prices per hectare offered by the promoters,” says the Villena councilor.
Requests for double the goal
Throughout the Valencian Community, 400 plant projects for about 12,000 MW are in different stages of processing. A figure that would mean multiplying the installed photovoltaic power by almost 30 and that doubles the energy target set by the Generalitat Valenciana until 2030.