New plant produces clean energy for Portugal and wealth for Alcoutim

Solara4 will produce enough energy to power 200 homes

Photos: Hugo Rodrigues|Sul Informação

«The first thing I did when I arrived at this project was to move the fiscal headquarters to Alcoutim. Now, our office is here in Martim Longo and this will also bring wealth to the council», believes Hugo Paz, from WElink Energy, the company that installed and will manage the largest photovoltaic plant in Portugal and one of the largest in Europe: Solara 4/Riccardo Totta, in Vaqueiros and Martim Longo.

This mega-plant, which has 660 solar panels, spread over a discontinuous area of ​​about 320 hectares, within the former farm of Finca Rodilha, an 800-hectare property, was inaugurated on Saturday, the 9th, in a ceremony that counted with the presence of João Matos Fernandes, Minister of Environment and Climate Transition, and João Galamba, Secretary of State for Energy.

Hugo Paz, the project director for the Iberian Peninsula of WElink Energy/Solar4, the company responsible for the project, in partnership with China Triumph International Engineering Company (CTIEC) and Maurizio Totta, the owner of the property, made a point of stressing, in his speech and, later, in statements to journalists, that the central promoters want this to be a benefit and not a headache for it. territory and for those who live there, whether economically or environmentally.

In this way, the “about 20 people” that the company estimates are needed to work at the plant permanently will be recruited locally.

«This is a large-scale project, so it requires very difficult maintenance, as we have to control the vegetation, clean the panels, maintain the electrical components, to see if everything is in order. All this will be done by local teams», he assured.


Hugo peace


Also from the area are the shepherds responsible for the company's teams of natural sappers, the 200 sheep who are already working to control the vegetation.

“We have a pilot project, further north [from the Central space], which is going very well. We are thinking of expanding this project to a different scale, where we will have many more sheep”, increasing the total number to 400.

"Sheep eat the pasture and, in this way, reduce its growth and allow the cutting of vegetation, which, apparently, does not grow a lot, is easier", illustrated Hugo Paz.

In parallel, he assured, there was a concern with the impacts of the work, in the design phase.

“During the Environmental Impact Study, a total area of ​​800 hectares was focused, within which the area where it would be possible to install the panels was defined”, which was around “600 hectares”.

However, in the design phase, “we've reduced it further”, to about half of what would be allowed.

“I think there are many green corridors in sight. It's not a typical project where we have a continuous sea of ​​panels. I'm very happy with the result», said Hugo Paz, pointing to the mountains around him, where you could see, until you lost sight, “paneled islands”, interspersed with paths and areas in a natural state.


Paulo Paulino


Paulo Paulino, vice-president of the Alcoutim Chamber, who represented the municipality at the ceremony, also emphasizes this discontinuity of panels, which has a smaller visual impact than the authentic “seas” of panels seen in other projects.

The issue of visual impact was one of the issues raised in 2015, when the intention to create a photovoltaic park on this Alcouteneja estate was made public.

At the time, recalls the mayor, there was “the fear that this would be something with continuous panels, but what happens is that there are islands and spaces that have to remain open. This avoids that heavy air that it could have».

But, at the beginning, the fears and the challenge to the project they didn't stop here.

Paulo Paulino assures, even so, that «the environmental impact statements and all the studies, as well as the periods of public consultation, came here to alleviate some of the fears that existed initially».

“For some things that were identified, adjustments were made to the project and impacts were minimized. A good example is the Via Algarviana route, which was changed to a location where it didn't get any worse and we managed to fit in perfectly», he illustrated.



«What I think is that we have to manage to balance the natural Algarve, which we absolutely cannot lose, with projects like this. Here, we are contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions and I think that municipalities must make their contribution. This type of infrastructure has to exist somewhere and, as long as it does not become widespread and does not become an excessive situation, we believe that it fits into our territory, as long as the environmental impacts do not prevent it», added the vice-president of the Chamber of Alcoutim.

And speaking of carbon gas emissions, this is another of the environmental assets of this plant, which, at the end of this month, and after the Solara4 power-up, will have a capacity of 219 MW.

According to the project's promoters, the hundreds of thousands of installed panels «will generate 382 GWh of clean energy and the capacity to supply 200 homes, which corresponds to a reduction of 326 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, a contribution fundamental for Portugal to achieve the renewable energy targets set out in the National Energy and Climate Program 2030 (PNEC 2030)».

«The energy that this plant will produce annually is equivalent to the consumption of approximately 200 thousand homes over a year. That's the easiest explanation to understand. And it is also the equivalent for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, because that energy would be produced using fossil fuels», "swas in for kids" Hugo Paz.

For this purpose, 175 million euros were invested by private developers, less than the 200 million euros initially foreseen, but enough to be the largest investment ever made in the municipality of Alcoutim.

This fact was, moreover, decisive for the Municipal Assembly of Alcoutim, by proposal of the Chamber, to have declared the Municipal Interest of this project, requested by the promoters.

One of the conditions was “that the company's fiscal headquarters be in Alcoutim”, something that happened. In this way, Solara4 «will certainly be the company with the highest turnover in the municipality», in a short time, according to Paulo Paulino.



At the time of approving the Municipal Interest, it was also required that local contractors be hired to provide services during the installation phase and later, in order to benefit directly from the work.

“Local trade was another of the issues we took into account. Over these two or three years of work, more than 500 people walked here every day. These people had to eat, sleep, stock up on goods and fuel, they went to the pharmacy, bought tires and went to the workshops», recalled the Alcoutenejo mayor.

“This generated an economic dynamism here that came to help at a time when we were in counter-cycle, because of the pandemic, when, in other municipalities, what we saw was a total stop. I don't even want to imagine the impact the pandemic would have had, if we didn't have all this activity here in the county», he said.

In the future, "we will have advantages in terms of direct jobs and taxes, which will also bring some benefit."

The photovoltaic plant brings benefits not only to Alcoutim, but also to all the Portuguese, guaranteed, for his part, João Matos Fernandes.

According to the Minister of the Environment, “projects like this will make the price of electricity more stable and cheaper. Why? Because the production of electricity from renewable sources is much cheaper than from fossil fuels».

This is even more evident at a time when «the other source of electricity production in Portugal, natural gas, which is imported, is very expensive».


Joao Matos Fernandes


On the side of welink, there is a desire to take this project further, deepening the benefits for the country.

“We firmly believe that this project has an ability to grow, to be improved. One of the improvements we can make is the implementation of more panels, in areas that we have free in these 800 hectares that were initially studied», revealed Hugo Paz.

“On the other hand, we want to implement a storage system. We still have to see what the capacity of that storage will be, but we are always talking about 40 to 70 mw of storage», he added.

This last investment is very important, since a photovoltaic plant of this type is characterized by the fact that the energy that is produced must necessarily be injected into the grid.

"But if we have a storage system, we can use this energy more intelligently and inject it into the grid at times when the price is higher, thus contributing to control the cost of energy", revealed the project director gives welink.

The market prospecting process at an international level, with the top companies in this area, has already started, with the welink to try to understand «which technology best fits this project».

"It's really to move forward!", promised Hugo Paz.


Photos: Hugo Rodrigues|Sul Informação