Hitting the policy limelight -- Italy's energy debate

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Italy's wind power potential is enormous and its total wind capacity could rise to some 10,000 MW in the next ten years, says Edo Ronchi, the head of the sustainable development department of the left-of-centre party Democratici Di Sinistra (DS). The party's ambitious forecasts for the sector were laid out at a recent conference it held on the future of wind energy in Italy.

Ronchi, also a former minister of the environment, stresses that a significant exploitation of wind energy and other renewable sources is essential for the country to respect its Kyoto commitments. He adds that potential to install about 32,000 MW in wind capacity exists. "The figure falls to 10,000 MW because of the necessity to choose sites carefully and to do a thorough environmental impact assessment." At the end of last year, Italy's cumulative wind capacity was 1265 MW.

Ronchi's forecast is much more ambitious than that of the current centre-right national Italian government, which is aiming at achieving about 2500 MW in the 2008-2012 period. Observers note that not all members of the current government are particularly keen on wind, although environment minister Altero Matteoli, a member of the far-right Alleanza Nazionale party, supports exploitation of the Italian resource. Location of wind farms must be done carefully, says Matteoli, but abandoning wind is not an option. "Without wind, [meeting] the objective of Kyoto is more difficult," he told Italian news agency ANSA in June.

The DS wind power conference came amid a growing debate across the political spectrum about the future of wind energy and increasing mainstream media attention to its perceived pros and cons. Carlo Ripa Di Meana, the head of Italy's National Landscape Committee and a staunch opponent of wind energy, commented after the wind conference that the DS is being unrealistic, noting that wind power projects have regularly provoked protest. What's more, Ripa Di Meana claims that betting on wind in Italy, where wind power is "irrelevant," does not make much sense when governments in countries with good wind resources are considering dramatically reducing or even abandoning their wind development programs. He cites Denmark, Germany and the UK.


Di Meana is not alone in his dismissal of Italy's wind potential. Physics Nobel prize winner Carlo Rubbia weighed in on the debate, explaining in an article for Italian national newspaper Corriere della Sera in June that the contribution wind can make to producing electricity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Italy is only marginal because the wind blows only about 20% of the time.

"But even Nobel prize winners can make mistakes," retorted Corrado Clini, the head of Italy's new Renewable Energy Observatory, in a response published by the newspaper. "The contribution of wind energy will be a determining factor to respect the commitments made by Italy in the European Union directives on emissions trading and renewable energy sources." Clini notes that figures from the national grid operator show that Italian wind plants function about 2500 hours each year. Given Italy's current commitment to cutting its carbon dioxide emissions, Clini says that not proceeding with planned wind plant projects would correspond to a cost of EUR 180 million annually from 2005 to 2007.


Meantime, the regional government of Sardinia has given no indication that it plans to lift a moratorium on the construction of wind plants, contained in legislation approved in November on protection of its coastlands. Some projects on which construction started before the moratorium will be built, but after that wind development will grind to a halt. Sardinia, one of Italy's top four wind regions, is expecting to push its current 240 MW of wind power to as much as 1000 MW.

Wind development is also being halted by the regional government of Apulia, which has asked local municipalities to halt construction of new wind projects until a new regional energy plan is approved at the end of the year. "It's not that we are against wind, but we want to better plan its development," says a spokesman for the region. Apulia has about 280 MW of wind so far and should be able to add another 50 MW this year. Like Sardinia it is among the four top wind regions in Italy, along with Sicily and Calabrio.

Ronchi stresses that dialogue with the regions is important and says the DS is meeting with the governments of both Sardinia and Apulia. He suggests one way to foster the growth of wind power in Italy would be to encourage the regions to set aside a portion of their territory specifically for the development of wind farms.

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