Malta enjoys one of Europe’s best climates and with temperatures rarely dipping below 12 degrees and almost 3000 hours of sunshine a year it makes sense that the government is looking to the sky to help them reach their 2020 renewable energy targets.
The European Commission has set Malta the target of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources within the next four years against its current output of 4.2%. Originally Malta had planned to put a heavy emphasis on offshore and onshore wind farms, with a prediction that they would generate half of the country’s total renewable output but issues such as failure to obtain planning permission for a major offshore site along with other environmental and social concerns meant that the government were forced to rethink their strategy. The decision to harness the power of the sun was then taken and some 2.7 square km will be devoted to PV panels, as well as €5 million a year in grants for domestic installations and plans to turn rooftops, old quarries, water reservoirs and disused landfills into solar generation zones.
With such a focus on encouraging the use of solar panels in both the public and private sector, one would have hoped that legislation would be in place to protect the rights of people involved. Unfortunately, at present, there is no law in place to protect owners of photovoltaic panels from issues such as multi-storey developments which create over-shading and significantly diminish the effectiveness of their solar investments.
With Malta undergoing something of a property boom, there is a large increase in the amount of multi-storey buildings being built which are bound to affect the amount of sunlight that reaches neighbouring properties. As it currently stands, if an individual significantly invests in solar panels and places them legally on top of their property or on their land, there is no legislation in place to protect their rights and investment should another party proceed to build an over-shadowing structure in the immediate vicinity.
Damien DeGiorgio, Partner at Fenech Farrugia Fiott Legal commented that all that is in place present is the rule of altius non tollendi, a servitude whereby neighbouring buildings are not allowed to exceed a certain height not to impair views of a particular tenement, must arise from a deed and cannot be acquired by usucapion.
“Other than the Porte de Bombe Act, I do not think that protection for PV panel owners is possible, and if it is, it will be difficult to ascertain unless the Government is willing to pay neighbouring tenements compensation for loss of enjoyment of property.”
Laws which regulate the right of solar access already exist in countries such as The Netherlands, as well as a number of US states, and whilst the introduction of solar rights was suggested in Malta back in 2008, no progress has been forthcoming to this date. It is hoped that new laws will be drafted in order to protect the rights of the PV owner, as well as the rights of any developers. It is clear that a compromise must be reached if the initiative is to be a success and Malta is to meet its target of 10% by 2020.