Mgarr Mayor Paul Vella spoke out on Saturday against the building of a solar farm on “virgin land” in the area, saying that if such a project is implemented it would be “a theft of Malta’s environment”.
Speaking at a protest organised by NGO Moviment Graffiti, held next to the ODZ land in question in the Tar-Raghad area, Vella insisted that the “massive” project “in the heart of Mgarr” can “never be accepted” – a statement received by a round of applause by the crowd of farmers, residents and activists present.
The project was first proposed in September, when it received widespread condemnation from farmers, residents and academics. The Planning Authority rejected the application at the time, yet the applicant, Joseph Cuschieri from Electrofix Group, has appealed that decision.
“This is not the way in which development should happen,” Vella said.
Activist Christine Cassar from Moviment Graffiti opened the protest by highlighting the group’s main concerns at this stage of the project: that Cuschieri has, at the appeal stage of the application, presented changes to the project, and that “discussions” with ministers were held or are planned to be held in relation to these changes.
“New plans cannot be presented during an appeal, and ministers should have no role during the planning process,” Cassar said.
The five speakers at the event together listed numerous reasons why such a development is unacceptable.
Joe Muscat, a full-time farmer in the area, argued that such a project would not cultivate the right climate and conditions required for crops to grow on the land, which would reduce produce by some 50%.
“The word ‘agriculture’ (in this project) is just an excuse because nothing can grow with all the shade,” he said, referring to the shade that the solar panels would cast on the crops.
Muscat also raised alarm about the runoff water which, not absorbed by the soil, would flow to the bottom of the road and ultimately cause harm.
The accumulation of runoff water and the harm it would cause was an issue raised numerous times throughout the protest by different speakers.
Archaeologist Francesco Partonelli explained to those present how the area is a “very sensitive” one and is also an area of archaeological importance that is recognised by the Planning Authority, due to features such as cart ruts, quarries and two temples. The temples are protected by UNESCO.
“As a country, we have an obligation to protect them,” he said, adding that such large accumulations of water would put the temples at “high risk” and potentially damage the temples. “Is this the progress that we want and need?” he asked.
Mgarr resident Joe Grima listed other side effects of developing the project on the land – “a lung in the middle of Mgarr,” including the damage to local flora and the damaging effects it would have for residents who reside around the land”.
Mayor Vella also noted how, located next to a school, the solar panel farm will give the wrong message to students about caring for the environment. “There will be no compromises on this,” he said.
Moviment Graffiti also questioned why the company that applied for the project, Electrofix Group, featured a stand at Malta’s agricultural fair. “Such PR moves are a blatant attempt at greenwashing ahead of the company’s appeal to the Planning Tribunal (EPRT) to reconsider the rejection of the solar farm on 24 May,” they said.