Analysis - new hope for Sicily investors with court ruling

ITALY: The administrative court of Sicily, southern Italy, has given new hope to investors whose proposals for wind projects in the region have been blocked.

Sicily: second largest region in Italy for wind capacity

In three separate cases brought by developers, the court ruled in February that Sicily's regional government would not be allowed to apply restrictive wind farm requirements approved in 2009 retrospectively to projects that have been sitting in the pipeline for years.

The court also agreed that several wind farm authorisation and siting restrictions in Sicily's 2009 regional energy plan were illegitimate. These included a prohibition on the siting of wind farms bigger than 10MW within 10 kilometres of other wind plants. Developers had feared that would sound a death knell for the future authorisation of almost all major projects.

At the time of the plan's approval, there were about 7GW of wind projects in the authorisation pipeline. Sicily is Italy's second-largest region behind Apulia for installed wind capacity, with just over 1GW at the end of 2009.

The court shot down a number of other measures in the 2009 regulations. Among these was a clause indicating Sicily-headquartered firms would be favoured in the authorisation process and a requirement for compensatory measures. Compensation to Italian regions and provinces for the construction of wind farms and other renewables plants are prohibited by Italian laws. The region also made authorisation of wind projects contingent on a statement from the transmission system operator that the grid could accommodate the capacity, but the court said this was not compatible with the concept of market liberalisation.

The Sicilian court suspended the application of the energy plan in September when it agreed to hear the first case contesting it. The case was brought by the Italian developer Zefira. Zefira's case was seen as particularly emblematic. Zefira received a negative environmental impact evaluation in March 2009 on the basis of new criteria.

Carlo Comande, a lawyer for Zefira, says the region will now have to re-evaluate the project on the basis of the old rules. The region is appealing the ruling. Comande says a total of 58 cases were brought before the court contesting the plan and the attempt to apply it retrospectively.