Solar farm approved on 10,000sq.m infilled Siggiewi quarry

In 2018 the PA had ruled out a similar development on the same site because the policy regulating solar farms excludes such developments on backfilled and “restored” sites.

 The reclaimed former quarry in Siggiewi that will now host a solar energy farm with more than 3,000 panels
The reclaimed former quarry in Siggiewi that will now host a solar energy farm with more than 3,000 panels

The Planning Authority has approved a 10,000sq.m solar farm on a backfilled quarry in an area known as Ta’ Bur ix-Xewk, in the limits of Siggiewi.

The solar farm proposed by Bajada New Energy will have 3,006 panels.

The Solar Farm policy which regulates the development of quarries in ODZ lists quarries “which are currently operational, inactive or disused” as a preferred location for solar farms. But it also states that “quarries which were restored before the date of adoption of this policy are not eligible for the development of solar farms”.

Aerial photos show that the site has been mostly backfilled and covered with vegetation since 1998.

But in this case the development was still approved because the site is still “in the process of being restored” since the area has never been restored to its “agricultural state”, with  vegetation on site  consisting of wild grass and plants that grew on the unlevelled and loosely laid construction inert material which has been left undisturbed for some time.

For this reason, the solar farm was positively recommended by the planning directorate “since it will put the site to good use” while imposing a commitment to re-instate it into a proper agricultural field after the decommissioning of the solar farm.

This represented a departure from a previous decision taken by the PA board in 2018 when it ruled out a similar development proposed by Renergy Ltd.

On that occasion the development of a grid connected solar farm was refused for being in breach of the Solar Farm Policy since the site “cannot be considered as an operating or disused quarry as it has been backfilled and vegetation has taken over the site”. It was deemed to be in breach of the policy, which specifies that quarries which were restored before 2017 are not eligible for the development of solar farms.

The PA had overruled arguments by the project’s proponents that although most of the quarry was filled with construction material and debris it still lacked soil cover.

Even in 2021 in a screening letter highlighting the major issues facing the second application presented by Bajada New Energy, the PA had warned the site proposed for development cannot be considered as an operating or disused quarry as it was backfilled, and vegetation had taken over the site.

Sources in the Planning Authority told MaltaToday that the latest decision follows a common-sense approach as the solar farm policy is meant to avoid the development of solar farms on agricultural land. Moreover, the land in question has limited environmental value as confirmed by ERA’s no objection.

But the decision could create a precedent for long restored quarries which have never been restored to agricultural use.

While ERA had raised no concerns about the development, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had objected noting that the installation of PV panels over such an extensive area “will inevitably negatively impact on the perception of the cultural landscape”.  But the project was approved by the Design Advisory Committee, the advisory panel which guides the PA on the visual impact of projects.