Italy

Italy

Battle of Sicily heats up after new plan -- Nearly 150 projects at risk

The wind industry is set for another court battle with Sicily's regional government, which has just approved a new energy plan. While the plan has lifted a previous 1.5 GW limit on total wind development, projects over 10 MW in capacity must now be sited at least ten kilometres from each other. That ruling, the industry says, would mean the end for most of the 144 wind projects, with a combined capacity of around 7 GW, that are currently in the Sicilian planning system, with large-scale onshore wind development in the region coming to a halt.

By end 2008, 795 MW of wind capacity was installed in Sicily, making the island Italy's second leading wind region behind Apulia. With other projects under construction, the energy plan's 950 MW short-term objective has more or less been reached, says Francesca Marcenò of the regional government's energy office. Before the Sicilian government sets a new target, it is waiting for goals for each region to be set by the national government, which is charged with meeting Italy's commitments for renewable energy generation in 2020 under EU law, says Raffaelle Lombardo, president of the region of Sicily.

The Italian wind association Associazione Nazionale Energia del Vento (ANEV) says 1900 MW of wind onshore by 2020 is an achievable goal for Sicily. This would use just 0.00092% the island's land mass. Around 200-400 MW would also be achievable offshore initially, rising to 1.6 GW offshore for the region in the long term as technology improves, according publicly controlled Italian research company CESI Ricerca, in which the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment holds a 51% share. Meanwhile, Italian grid operator Terna is implementing plans to increase transmission capacity between the island and the mainland that will ensure further wind projects can be accommodated.

Wipes out wind

Sicily's new energy plan, however, seems to ignore this and "practically wipes out the possibility of presenting new greenfield projects," says Mario Presti of WKN Italia, the Italian arm of German developer WKN Windkraft Nord. Effectively, that is what the regional government is hoping to achieve, admits Francesca Marcenò of the regional government's energy office. Instead, it wants to encourage small scale projects and offshore development, she says, acknowledging that the energy office is aware the ten kilometre limit is likely to become a matter for the judicial system. "We do expect it to be contested," she says.

Knowing that the national government is firmly on the side of large scale wind deployment, having introduced attractive guaranteed purchase prices for wind generated electricity, the Sicilian government is prepared for a legal battle that could force it to amend its policy. Marcenò simply says the energy plan will be monitored and could be subject to change.

History, so far, is on the side of the wind industry. Companies contesting a previous Sicilian measure, which stopped wind plants being constructed within five kilometres of habitations, won that battle. But getting a favourable court ruling on policy matters does not necessarily mean success, warns Presti.

For the past several months, Sicily's local politicians with primary responsibility for wind energy have not made things easy, he says, noting that representatives of the department responsible for environmental issues have simply failed to show up at government meetings on wind plant authorisations. This has resulted in a de facto block of new approvals, says Presti. "With this political situation, no serious investor can take the risk," he adds.

WKN Italia is progressing with projects already in the pipeline but has no plans to add new projects to its portfolio until the situation becomes clearer. "What is not crystal clear is what will happen to those projects that have already been presented," says Presti. "It looks like they will be re-examined on a case-by-case basis."

More solid projects

Meanwhile, the plan now also requires stronger financial guarantees from developers applying for projects approval. "We hope that entrepreneurs will follow us in this area," says Marcenò. "We want the most solid projects to go forward."

Offshore, the energy office says concessions for wind farms can only be given for projects at least 2.5 nautical miles off the coast, rising to five miles for tourist sites. The single offshore project currently in the planning off Sicily -- a 345-575 MW facility proposed by a joint venture comprising Italian utility Enel and Sicilian wind developer Moncada Energy Group -- meets these criteria. The project is planned to be at least three miles off the coast and is not in a tourist area. But it has still met objections from local municipalities.

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