Uncertainty drives Italian firms abroad

ITALY: Uncertainty about financial incentives has accelerated a push abroad by the country's wind-energy players. Seventy-one percent of the EUR1.1 billion investments made by Italian wind-energy companies in the first nine months of 2011 were for projects outside Italy, according to Italian consultancy Althesys.

This was nearly double the EUR480 million Italian investors ploughed into foreign wind projects in the first nine months of 2010, representing 30% of total wind investments from Italians of EUR1.6 billion.

"In the absence of visibility on future revenues, banks are not financing Italian wind projects right now," said Althesys CEO Alessandro Marangoni. For much of last year, the market was waiting for details of a new incentive scheme to be applied to wind farms coming online from 2013.

The decree had still not been published as Windpower Monthly went to press. Investors need to know more about price levels for a new feed-in-tariff (FIT) and the functioning of an auction system under which larger projects would have to compete to receive the FIT.

William Heller, the head of the wind and solar business at Italian firm Falck Renewables, told financial analysts in November that the company had "heavily shifted" its focus to onshore wind projects in the UK due to uncertainty about the domestic market. Falck is now completing a 22MW wind farm in Sicily and could expand existing Italian wind farms but has no other plans to grow domestically.

Most Italian wind investors have remained within Europe, although Enel Green Power is building wind energy projects as far afield as North and South America. "Some Italian companies have made investments in old Europe like the UK and France," noted Marangoni, "while others have looked to markets in the east, especially Bulgaria and Romania, which are favourable not only in terms of wind resources but also in terms of incentives."

Marangoni also pointed to a strong Italian presence in the Balkans, which are close to Italy and less competitive for investors. In Albania, Moncada Energy Group is developing a 500MW wind farm and Marseglia Group has plans for two wind farms with a combined capacity of 234MW.

Italian investors' motivations to go abroad only increased after the government decided in September to tax renewable-energy companies with revenues exceeding EUR10 million an extra 10.5% corporate tax over the next three years.

Renewable-energy firms had previously been exempted from the so-called Robin Hood tax on energy companies, which had initially been set at 6.5% and applied only to firms with annual turnover above EUR25 million. Italian investors are now hoping that the new government formed in November will introduce policies more favourable to the development of wind. Italy's new environment minister, Corrado Clini, has promised the decree with the details of the new incentive system will be ready soon.