In the hands ofthe regions -- Potential for 12,000 MW

Italy's installed wind total could see a five fold increase by 2020, rising from today's 2500 MW to as much as 12,000 MW under a best-case scenario outlined in the government's renewable energy position paper recently presented to the European Commission. Offshore wind is expected to contribute around 2000 MW.

If achieved, wind power generation would reach about 22.60 TWh compared to 2.35 TWh in 2005. But even under its best-case scenario, the country expects renewables to account for just 15% of its energy supplies by 2020, up from the 7% today. That is well short of the European Union's overall target of 20% renewable energy by 2020 agreed by member states earlier this year.

"It's not to be excluded that Italy could actually do more than 12,000 MW," says Luciano Pirazzi of Ente per le Nuove tecnologie l'Energia e l'Ambiente (ENEA), the country's main agency responsible for the promotion of renewable energy. Success, however, largely rests with the policies of regional governments, he says. "Certainly, if there are only three or four regions that are supporting the development of wind energy, you're not going to go very far."

In its position paper, Italy's government agrees. "In order to achieve an ambitious national target, a greater level of coordination will be thus necessary among the regions and between them and the state," it says. "The regions should undertake their own targets and define clear and efficient roadmaps to 2020."

Frank Geffers, head of the energy team at Italian law firm Puopolo Geffers Rosin Bosin, believes that 12,000 MW of wind power in Italy is a pipedream. "The constitution gives regions the power to decide on renewable energy policy and if they don't like a project, they can find a way to block it," he says.

Most authorities, he adds, will take that route. A case in point is the regional government of wind and sun rich Sardinia, which has placed severe limitations on the development of both wind and photovoltaic energy as it develops its coal industry further.

Meantime, wind energy association Associazione Nazionale Energia del Vento, among others, says the national government's own policies are also proving problematic. Recent legislation requiring national environmental assessments for wind plants over 20 MW and setting new restrictions on siting of wind farms in specially protected areas and sites of interest pose key obstacles to development, says the association. Moreover, while imposing these restrictions, the government has yet to approve long awaited national guidelines for the siting of wind plants as required under the 2003 renewable energy law.