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ENERGY-EU: Zero Carbon Communities

Mario de Queiroz

MOURA, Portugal, Nov 3 2008 (IPS) - This small municipality in the south of Portugal is becoming increasingly well-known for its alternative energy initiatives. The latest is the Sunflower project, which also involves communities in seven other European Union countries.

The aim of the project is to transform communities in Bulgaria, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain into what the EU’s Intelligent Energy – Europe programme (IEE) calls a “Zero Carbon Community.”

The IEE seeks to convert the communities into areas free of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, where only renewable energies are used.

Behind the idea are the mayor of Moura, José María Prazeres Pós-de-Mina – who was also the driving force behind the project of what until early 2008 was the world’s largest solar plant, Amareleja – and environmental engineer Helder Guía.

The architects of the Sunflower project explained to IPS that it will be financed by the EU over a term of 30 months and that its aim is to attract investment for renewable energy initiatives.

The first step is to “determine the role of each of the bodies that participate, in terms of their contribution to the development of their respective regions,” Pós-de-Mina told IPS.


At the meeting that launched the project, held in Moura in early October, the mayors from the eight participating countries identified the needs of each municipality, “towards drafting a working plan from which the various activities envisaged will stem,” Guía put in.

The idea is “to form partnerships between the bodies involved and other institutions, such as political authorities, economic groups, technology parks and universities, to draw investment for the alternative power industry, which would also lead to job creation,” said Guía.

Pós-de Mina placed particular emphasis on what he described as “one of the main goals of the project: conducting campaigns to raise awareness on the use of renewable energies and the benefits to the people and schools in the communities in the eight countries involved.”

Sunflower was developed based on the know-how gained from the creation of the Amareleja solar power plant, which has panels extending over 100 hectares and an expected production capacity for next year of more than 46 megawatts.

When the plant is fully operational in 2010, Amareleja – one of the eight villages that make up the municipality of Moura – will produce 62 MW through systems that follow the sun’s path, supporting 268,000 photovoltaic panels, which will generate 93 gigawatts (GW)/hour/year, or enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

According to the mayor, the key objective of Sunflower in the eight European communities involved in the Moura-coordinated project “is to promote, disseminate and implement good practices in the field of renewable energy sources.”

The project is being implemented “in localities that are socially disadvantaged and impoverished, where local communities have limited access to information, and economic activity alone is insufficient to drive technological and scientific investment,” he said.

The Moura initiative was first developed three years ago. At that time it applied for financing from the EU under the Intelligent Energy – Europe programme, but it was only granted the funds this year, after its third attempt.

In the meantime “we’ve been perfecting the initiative, while at the same time strengthening partnerships with the entities involved in the project, which, despite being coordinated by Moura as the organising community and source of the idea, engages the municipalities from the other seven countries as fully equal participants.”

Guía, for his part, underlined that “this is not a pilot project, but rather an initiative that was approved to set an example and be replicated both in its methodology and its results throughout the EU, and not just in the countries that are currently participating.”

The idea is for the project to spread throughout Europe, “breeding new plants that will generate any form of renewable energy, either photovoltaic, wind, wave, or any other alternative power source that is locally feasible, depending on the location and the specific conditions,” the environmental engineer said.

Pós-de-Mina stressed that “what we’re talking about are projects that have to do with sustainable development, not just in the field of renewable energies, but also in terms of regional development.”

“That is the reason why Sunflower includes technology parks and natural parks, as it intends to create a network for collaboration and experience and knowledge sharing,” he said.

“It’s not just about creating power plants,” Guía said. “The idea is to make this a launching pad for new collaborative initiatives.”

“When large power plants are constructed, a possibility opens up for other projects to be negotiated. That happened in Moura: as the agreement for the construction of the Amareleja solar plant was being finalised, it was also decided that a photovoltaic panel factory would be built,” he pointed out.

These “power plant construction projects are also meant to serve as a springboard for sustainable development by creating employment, jobs that globalisation cannot easily relocate to other regions, as they will be dependent on that specific location.”

“Not every region has abundant sunlight and strong winds, and these jobs can only be situated in places that have conditions for this type of projects,” Guía added.

Consulted about the possibilities of taking Sunflower outside of Europe, Guía said that at first there was an attempt to expand the scope of action, “but it wasn’t possible, as we are limited to the EU territory.”

Despite this limitation, in terms of relations with the rest of the world, Pós-de-Mina’s reputation as “mayor of the future” because of his ecological initiatives has already made it across the Atlantic, and he has been invited to a Latin American energy meeting in Brazil.

“We have been invited to the Latin American conference on renewable energies, which will be held Nov. 18-21 in (the southern Brazilian city of) Florianópolis, where delegates will learn how Moura came up with and developed the Sunflower project,” he said.

 
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