The Regional Court of Apulia in Italy has ruled that the regional authorities must not deny permits to solar projects on agricultural land without considering how they combine electricity generation with crop cultivation and the raising of livestock. pv magazine spoke to Emilio Sani from law firm Sani Zangrando about the ruling’s potential consequences.
Apulia is one of the Italian regions with the highest rate of installed PV capacity, due to its high solar radiation levels and land availability. The development of large-scale PV plants was particularly strong in the 2009-14 period, when generous feed-in tariffs were awarded under the so-called Conto Energia incentive programmes, on top of favorable rules for approval processes and environmental permits were in place. .
Following this turbulent, dynamic phase – which saw the region host more than 2.5 GW of installed solar power in just a few years – social acceptance of solar parks began to decrease. The local authorities started to introduce more restrictions. In particular, the regional authorities approved a plan for the protection of the landscape (Piano Paesaggistico Territoriale Regionale – PPTR), which affects the potential to install PV plants in agricultural areas.
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As a consequence, securing approvals in the region for solar parks became a real challenge, if not impossible. Investors started to look at other regions such as Sicily or Sardinia that recently introduced more flexible legislation for PV.
But not everything is lost for Apulia. A recent ruling from its Regional Administrative Court has shown that municipal and regional authorities must perform case-by-case reviews of projects and cannot deny them just because they are in agricultural areas.
“Many projects have been rejected just because they were in agricultural areas and, according to the plan for the protection of the PPTR, this may affect the agricultural landscape,” said Emilio Sani of law firm Sani Zangrando. “The stressed court that being in agricultural areas cannot be an obstacle in itself and in the evaluation of the project have to be considered its actual and specific features and in particular if it may combine agricultural activity and production of energy.”
The court accepted the claims of Italian developer X-Elio Italia 5 Srl that the province of Taranto, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Assets and Environments, and the regional environmental agency ARPA had all contributed to denying the environmental impact assessment for a 68.4 MW solar park in the municipality of Ginosa.
“This ruling is important for the ongoing procedures,” Sani said. “If the region will apply the principles of the court decision, the authorities in charge of the environmental assessment should perform a more in-depth analysis of the projects and grant a particular consideration to the projects combining agriculture and production of electrical energy.”
The court said the decision to deny the environmental approval depended on the agricultural nature of the site. However, according to the regional court, the authorities are not allowed to deny a priori authorizations for PV plants in agricultural areas.
“They can modulate, restrict or limit a project,” the court said. “They can introduce qualitative and quantitative limits, but they cannot prohibit.”
The court did not make any references to national standards for agrivoltaics.
“For the purpose of the authorization, what has to be evaluated is just the possibility to continue or to restart the agricultural activities,” Sani explained. “The specific rules that are under development for agrivoltaic plants should not be relevant, as these are intended at specifying what is entitled to receive the incentives awarded through the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).”
The solar plant was to be built with PV panels at a height of 2 meters. It included long distances between the panel rows, with 95% of the available surface left for agricultural activities. Olive trees, tomatoes, melons, and peppers were to be grown at the facility.
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