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MaltaToday 4 June 2023

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12 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 4 JUNE 2023 JAMES DEBONO DINO Fino, a furniture importer, is proposing the cultivation of al- oe vera plants beneath an array of solar panels at Ta' Buqana in the outskirts of Mosta. Described in the planning appli- cation as an 'agrivoltaic farm', the project foresees the erection of ground-mounted solar panels at heights ranging from 2.5m to 4m. The project will sprawl over 32,314sq.m of land – the size of five football grounds - in the area between Mosta and Rabat. However, the project has raised concerns because the targeted site, currently consisting of agri- cultural fields, holds the designa- tion of an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV). It is also partly recognized as an Area of Ecolog- ical Importance (AEI) and Site of Scientific Importance (SSI). The Environment and Resourc- es Authority has already raised objections, warning that it would involve the take-up of "undevel- oped agricultural land", poten- tially compromising the scenic value of the site. In addition to environmental concerns, the Planning Author- ity's internal advisory panel on agricultural issues has warned that the development breaches the rural policy, which permits only small-scale photovoltaic in- stallations on agricultural land. Planning policies instead encour- age the location of solar farms in disused quarries, minimizing conflicts with agricultural use. Additionally, the panel has re- quested a comprehensive tech- nical report, jointly prepared and endorsed by an engineer and an agronomist, to assess the impact of the proposed solar panels on the daily light requirements of the crops. But developers who declare owning the entire site have al- ready identified aloe vera as the intended crop for cultivation in this project. Aloe vera, a cac- tus-like plant commonly used in skincare products, thrives in hot and arid climates and is considered ideal for agrivoltaic systems because it can tolerate partial shade. This makes it ad- aptable to growing conditions with intermittent sunlight. Aloe vera plants are known for their resilience in drought conditions, enabling them to thrive in en- vironments with limited water availability. This proposal comes at a time when Italian energy giant Enel is conducting an agriphotovol- taic demonstration project in It- aly, Greece, and Spain. The pro- ject aims to determine the most compatible crops to coexist with solar power plants and identify optimal layouts for photovoltaic installations. Aloe vera is one of the plants being cultivated in this experiment. While incorporating solar pan- els into agriculture ensures that both activities do not compete for scarce land resources, there are concerns about the concen- tration of land ownership. This issue arises as energy production companies, rather than tradi- tional food producers, could gain significant control over agricul- tural land through such projects, potentially impacting food sover- eignty. In March 2022 the Planning Authority had unanimously re- jected a proposal for a massive solar farm in Mġarr that would have taken up arable land the size of six football pitches.The development application, filed by Joseph Schembri of Electrofix Group, proposed the construc- tion and installation of over 5,700 photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftops of 90 greenhouses. MATTHEW VELLA RULES for so-called Light Passenger Transport Vehicles such as ride-hail- ing cabs from Bolt and Uber, will be amended to require an architect's re- port verifying ownership of a garage for their overnight parking. Under Maltese transport regulations, taxis that are not standard 'white cab' or rental cabs are not allowed to be parked outside when not in use. The new rules will require LPTV operators to submit an architect's re- port confirming the availability of ad- equate garage space when applying or renewing their operator's license, or a legal, private off-street parking space for their exclusive use where to park their vehicles while these are not in use. "This amendment will ensure that LPTV operators can efficiently store their vehicles and maintain an organ- ized operational set-up," Transport Malta said. LPTVs will also no longer be obliged to return to the garage if they are avail- able for booking during the driver's working hours. "This change allows for greater operational flexibility, re- ducing downtime and increasing the availability of LPTVs for passengers, and reduce travelling time from the garage to the identified work area." Several new requirements will al- so be introduced to streamline the functioning of LPTVs, which include parking regulations for such cars dur- ing their normal hours of operation. LPTVs, which can only be hailed us- ing their digital platforms, will be al- lowed to legally park on the road for up to one hour when using a parking disc. But they will have to maintain a minimum 250m distance from taxi stands at ferry landing sites and oth- er designated sites, and a minimum 100m distance from other taxi stands. LPTVs must also be at least 15m away from bus stops. "These new guidelines ensure efficient traffic flow while providing convenient parking options for LPTVs," Transport Malta said. LPTVs parked on the road with the driver inside the vehicle will be ex- empt from time restrictions. Howev- er, they must still adhere to the dis- tance restrictions from taxi stands and bus stops. "This change will allow drivers to take short breaks without impeding passenger service. The authority is currently exploring the possibility of introducing digital geofencing and will have meetings with the operators to discuss this matter in the coming weeks. These amendments under- score our commitment to fostering an efficient and user-friendly trans- port system that caters to the evolving needs of both operators and passen- gers." Aloe Vera solar farm proposed on Mosta land the size of five football grounds Regulator must verify garage space for ride-hailing cabs under new rules Project proposed by Dino Fino for an 'agrivoltaic farm' sparks concerns LPTVs will be allowed to legally park on the road for up to one hour when using a parking disc

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