New Internationalist

Sharing the sunshine

March 2009

Portuguese project spreads solar power across Europe

He’s launched one of the largest green business initiatives in the world; now the mayor of one of Portugal’s smallest and poorest municipalities is spearheading an eight-country project to create communities run entirely on renewable energy.

José María Prazeres Pós-de-Mina started with his own municipality of Moura, one of the sunnier spots in the sunniest country in Europe. Noting that his region has ‘sunshine to spare – and even to sell’, Pós-de-Mina built what was at the time the world’s largest solar electricity generating plant. Moura is home to just 16,500 people, but the plant is expected to produce enough energy to power 30,000 homes when it reaches full capacity in 2010.

Pós-de-Mina calls the solar plant ‘a very important project, which will put Moura in a leading position at the global level in the renewable energy sector, which could attract other related investments’.

‘Besides the solar plant and what it means in terms of respect for the environment, the idea is to give shape to a much more vast initiative,’ Pós-de- Mina told the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. ‘We will also build a neighbourhood that will take into account worries about sustainability, introducing renewable energy in the buildings while paying attention to energy efficiency.’

For his bold initiatives, Pós-de-Mina has been dubbed ‘the mayor of the future’ by many in Europe. He was named one of ten finalists for the ‘People of 2008’ Award, presented by the US arm of the social justice news service in December.

‘I never thought that somebody in a country across the Atlantic could know our work and recognize its merit. It was a pleasant surprise that left us satisfied and with more will to continue our efforts,’ Pós-de-Mina said of the nomination.

Pós-de-Mina is now working to spread his vision beyond his own borders. His latest project links eight municipalities in eight European countries in an effort to create ‘zero-carbon communities’ run entirely on renewable energy. The $1.4 million Sunflower Project was launched in Moura in October, with mayors from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Britain beginning to set out their plans.

Pós-de-Mina explains that 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’.

Helder Guía, the initiative’s environmental engineer, told IPS that the Sunflower Project is intended to help spread eco-business ideas across Europe, ‘building 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’.

‘Power plant construction projects are also meant to serve as a springboard for sustainable development by creating employment – jobs that globalization cannot easily relocate to other regions, as they will be dependent on that specific location,’ Guía added.

Jeffrey Allen

This column was published in the March 2009 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 420

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