Renewables

Arrests in Bulgaria for enabling solar power projects on fertile land

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Published

October 26, 2023

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Published:

October 26, 2023

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Chair of Bulgaria’s Agricultural Academy Martin Banov and Deputy Head of the Nikola Poushkarov Institute of Soil Science, Agrotechnologies and Plant Protection Veneta Krasteva are charged with illegally lowering the quality grades of numerous agricultural land lots to enable the construction of solar power plants.

Soon after President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev turned to the Constitutional Court to annul a provision in a new law allowing photovoltaic projects on a greater share of agricultural land, the authorities arrested two people in connection to illegal activity in the same sector.

Charges were brought, for illegally lowering the grades of numerous agricultural land lots to enable the construction of solar power plants, against the Chair of Agricultural Academy Martin Banov and Deputy Head of the Nikola Poushkarov Institute of Soil Science, Agrotechnologies and Plant Protection Veneta Krasteva. She also works at the government’s National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency.

Searches, seizures conducted even in state institutions

The investigation led to seizures and searches in more than 30 homes, cars and state institutions, including a municipality and a regional agriculture directorate, the Prosecutor’s Office said. They were conducted in Sofia, Sliven, Stara Zagora, Byala, Kardzali, Momchilgrad and Haskovo.

There were cases of replacing soil samples, according to media reports

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Commission for Anti-Corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture (CACIAF) participated in the investigation.

New law allowed investors to install solar power plants on higher-quality land

Hundreds of solar power projects on municipal and private land were launched since June of last year, which is when prosecutors claim that the two top scientists conspired to illegally lower the grades. Investors were allowed to build on land from grade 7 to grade 10, the lowest level. But since last month, with the adoption of the Energy from Renewable Sources Act, grade 5 and grade 6 are also included, prompting criticism and President Radev’s complaint to the Constitutional Court.

Land can only be recategorized with approval from the Agricultural Academy and the said institute. There were cases of replacing soil samples, according to domestic media reports.

Several projects for photovoltaics on agricultural land recently led to controversies. Just before Radev’s announcement, Regional Governor of Burgas Plamen Yanev blocked the repurposing of 828 hectares in Sredets.

Debates on tradeoffs between agriculture and renewables, but also biodiversity, are arising throughout Europe and beyond. The agrisolar or agrivoltaics concept is becoming more popular as it envisages growing food under photovoltaic panels.

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