Life inside (and outside) a renewable plant

In Romangordo (Cáceres) two unusual things happen. The first is that this town at the gates of Monfragüe is full of trompe l'oeil. The abandoned walls are painted with urban murals, in which donkeys still plow the fields and old women gather in a huddle to wash the sheets. It is the village of paintings, which everyone talks about but no one knows. An open-air museum worth visiting. The second unusual thing about this municipality of about 200 inhabitants is that it houses a unique space for coexistence between photovoltaic panels and wildlifewhich has become an example of good practices for the renewable energy industry in Spain.

In the solar plant that Iberdrola has located in the municipal area, you can see about 9,000 specimens of ten different species of mammals (such as deer, rabbits or foxes) and up to 64 small birds, including some in vulnerable situations such as the turtledove or partridge. These results are the result of an independent environmental study that has confirmed that the Campo Arañuelo III photovoltaic plant is “a quiet and highly favorable space for wildlife.”

For Alfredo Ortega, biologist author of the phototrapping report, “it is evident that there are no significant differences in terms of diversity between the interior and exterior of the installation” and that “photovoltaics can coexist perfectly with nature.” This is important news for a town that has been kept alive thanks to livestock goat and honey, like many others located in that part of Extremadura.

The energy company is also working on numerous initiatives within the Convive program, which combine the installation of renewable projects with the conservation of biodiversity and activities related to agriculture or livestock. A few months ago, he launched the first project in Spain to grow mushrooms in photovoltaic installations, at the plant in the Revilla Vallejera municipality of Burgos. There, the panels shelter the crop, achieving water savings and an improvement in the quality of the harvest. In addition, 600 sheep graze daily in the enclosure, improving the biological quality of the land.

To give visibility to the efforts carried out by local entities and companies, the local council was distinguished in the first edition of the Convive Iberdrola Awards as an example of a small town in which not only does green energy coexist, there is also mutual benefit. Currently, the call for the second edition is open to any project interested in highlighting its work in integrating renewables with the territory.

Another Castilian-Leonian example can be found in the Abadía Retuerta winery (Valladolid), which together with the electricity company launched a photovoltaic self-consumption project that allows the Ribera del Duero firm to supply itself with 100% clean energy. There are other similar projects, such as the first smart agrovoltaic plant, located in Bodegas González Byass (Toledo). In it, the solar panels shade a grape which can suffer under the sun moving automatically, which improves the competitiveness of the wine.

But honey can also benefit from solar panels. In fact, there are more than 1,230 hives in the photovoltaic installations from Iberdrola, which adds up to some 60 million bees since the beginning of the Convive program. These important insects—they pollinate the plants that produce our food and keep ecosystems functioning—are often in trouble due to pesticide use, habitat loss, and climate change. In this way, local beekeepers produce pure, highly valued honey, made without pesticides, in a safe environment free from theft.

In the Romeral and Olmedilla plants, both in Cuenca, we found some of these honeycombs. There the bees will be able to pollinate the more than 19,000 and 13,500 native plants such as rosemary and thyme that will be finished being planted shortly. The ecological corridors that connect wildlife with 31,600 more plants will also be improved. In addition to the hives, they have built shelters to protect other insects, amphibians and small mammals. If we continue touring Castilla-La Mancha we will find the Bargas photovoltaic plant (Toledo), which has become a new shelter for lesser kestrels, a local species in a vulnerable state in Spain.

If anything is clear, it is that Renewable energy installations are becoming more common in landscapes from Spain. The National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) establishes the objective of reaching 160 GW of installed renewable power out of the total 214 GW by 2030. Addressing this goal is important to address the climate crisis that threatens biodiversity, although it is essential to guarantee a responsible deployment of renewable projects. The previous examples prove that there is a way to increase its presence in the Spanish energy mix while respecting ecosystems and positively impacting the local economy.

Renewable like that, yes

The Convive program seeks to achieve a decarbonized economy in which the installation of renewable energies, the environment and people coexist in harmony. To achieve this, projects such as biodiversity studies in photovoltaic plants, agrovoltaic development or local training programs are undertaken. In addition, the Convive Awards, in collaboration with the Center for Innovation in Technology for Human Development of the Polytechnic University of Madrid, recognize initiatives that integrate green energies with socioeconomic development and the conservation of biodiversity in Spain. The call will be open in until July 12, 2024 and the delivery ceremony will be held in the last quarter of the year in Paredes de Nava (Palencia). An independent jury evaluates the applications based on factors such as their impact on the area, collaboration between agents or replicability, with categories such as research or entrepreneurship, among others.