Sicily bans solar park as archaeologists fight environmentalists

by Reuters
Thursday, 14 October 2021 13:32 GMT

A general view of solar panels in Centuripe, Italy, August 7, 2021. REUTERS/Angelo Amante

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Requests to build new solar plants in Italy's southernmost region have risen sharply, stoking fears among administrators and farmers of developments that could steal land from agriculture

By Angelo Amante

CATANIA, Italy, Oct 14 (Reuters) - A cultural heritage committee on the Italian island of Sicily has blocked installation of a large solar park for aesthetic and cultural reasons, highlighting the struggle Italy faces to meet its clean energy commitments.

The energy transition is at the heart of Italy's plans to spend more than 200 billion euros ($231 billion) in grants and cheap loans from the European Union's Recovery Fund to resurrect its coronavirus-ravaged economy.

Rome needs to install around 70 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030 to meet climate commitments, but is building just 0.8 GW per year.

Ibvi 7, a subsidiary of Germany-based solar plant developer ib vogt, was planning to invest 229 million euros in building one of the biggest factories in Italy, generating 384 megawatts of power, near the central Sicilian town of Centuripe.

However, the cultural heritage committee of the Enna province, which has the power to block developments if they pose a documented risk to the landscape or to cultural heritage, had other ideas.

"The land where the plant should be built is very rich in archaeological finds and is one of the most uncontaminated on the island," the authority wrote in a document seen by Reuters, referring to remains of Bronze Age settlements.

In Italy solar and wind farms are often opposed on the grounds that they spoil the natural landscape, creating a tussle between landscape and climate environmentalists.

In a comment sent via email to Reuters, ib vogt said it "noted the decision with regret".

It said it remained "committed to producing green, sustainable electricity for the Italian grid and will continue its efforts to develop and build solar power in the country".

The group will be allowed to appeal the authority's verdict to the regional court, though it did not respond to a query as to whether it would do so.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday investment in renewable energy needs to triple by the end of the decade if the world hopes to effectively fight climate change.

Requests to build new solar plants in Italy's southernmost region, which benefits from plentiful sunshine and availability of land, have risen sharply over the last two years, stoking fears among administrators and farmers of developments that could steal land from agriculture.

"Many people have been unable to rent land next to theirs because the owners hoped to sell it at an higher price for solar panels," Massimo Piacentino, a member of agricultural lobby Coldiretti, told Reuters.

Ettore Pottino, who owns land in central Sicily, said agriculture was no longer profitable, and selling part of his land to build a solar factory had helped keep his hospitality and food production business afloat.

"I have sold five hectares at 200,000 euros, which is four times their market value. I will manage to get rid of a mortgage that is destroying me," he said.

While the government has approved a decree to remove permitting bottlenecks and fast-track authorisations, red tape remains an issue in the less developed regions of the south.

A survey from Italy's state energy management agency shows most solar farms are located in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, favoured by developers "because of the more favourable bureaucratic environment", according to Giovanni Galgano, director of consultancy Public Affairs Advisors.

($1 = 0.8648 euros)

(Editing by Jan Harvey)

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