Italian focus on problems not success

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It was the obstacles to wind's growth in Italy that dominated discussions among Italian participants at last month's European Wind Energy Conference (EWEC 2007) in Milan rather than the country's unquestionably successful market incentive system for renewable energy. Fabrizio Fabbri from Italy's Environment Ministry set the tone in the opening session by highlighting the sometimes vehement opposition to Italian wind projects as a result of landscape, wildlife and other concerns. He stressed the need for better dialogue with local communities chosen for hosting wind farms.

Luigi La Pegna, head of renewables at utility Enel, said public opposition to wind projects is one of the reasons the company is not doing more at home. Another big factor is bureaucracy. La Pegna illustrated his case by noting that authorisation for one seemingly straightforward repowering operation to replace old wind turbines with new required 16 months and 11 stamps of approval from various authorities. Enel has 309 MW of operational wind capacity on land in Italy, which it aims to double through 2011 while building one or two offshore plant in the 50-200 MW size range. Those growth plans appear tame compared to its financial firepower and its wind plant expansion efforts outside of Italy, particularly in America (Windpower Monthly, November 2006).

In addition to highlighting the authorisation process as a barrier to wind growth in Italy, Gianni Silvestrini, an advisor to economic development minister Pierluigi Bersani, cited the hostility of some regional governments, which play the primary role in approving projects, and medium term uncertainty on purchase prices for wind; the government is currently studying an adjustment of the incentive framework supporting the renewables market. But expectations are that incentives will remain positive for wind if Italy is to have any shot at meeting its renewable energy commitments. The government has pledged to get some 25% of its electricity to renewable energy by end-2010, well above the current 16%, and is expected to boost that target further.

Despite the strong role played by regional governments, industry players are also looking to the national government to help set the agenda for a thriving wind business. Luciano Pirazzi, of government energy agency Ente Nazionale per le Nuove Tecnologie, l'Energia e l'Ambiente, noted that a 2003 renewable energy law is not yet fully operative. Specifically, the government has yet to issue national guidelines for locating and permitting wind farms, or to publish an allocation of how renewable energy objectives will be divided between regions.

Nor have any high-ranking Italian officials come out strongly in favour of wind energy, which some see as an oddity for a government that says it favours renewable energy and currently hosts Europe's fourth largest wind market. "It's worrisome," said one Italian participant at EWEC 2007. All these other countries come here to Milan showing ambitious development plans for wind and Italy has nothing." Italian Environment Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, initially slated as a guest of honour at the event's opening, was a justified no-show, but Italian industry players say they are accustomed to political bigwigs not even turning out for wind energy gatherings in Rome, the country's political capital, let alone making it north to Milan.

While obstacles to growth abound, attractive purchase prices set by the national electricity regulator for green energy certificates have nonetheless helped Italy stumble ahead to rank among Europe's wind leaders, with more than 2000 MW installed. Silvestrini expects the total to reach 2800 MW to 3000 MW by the end of the year, well above a 2500 MW target initially set for 2010-2012. New government objectives are in the offing. Associazione Nazionale Energia del Vento, the Italian wind energy association, has a forecast of 7100 MW for 2010, but amid uncertainty on the regulatory front, places a question mark after that estimate.

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