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Italy may reopen coal plants amid concerns about energy supply, PM says

Italy will increase the domestic production of gas and may reopen coal-fired power stations under plans to ensure energy security, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Friday.

Italy may reopen coal plants amid concerns about energy supply, PM says
Steam rises from a chimney of a black coal-fired power plant. (Photo by Daniel ROLAND / AFP)

After Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday, the EU announced an initial raft of sanctions against Russia with more expected to follow.

The instability and sanctions are expected to have a wide-ranging impact on gas supplies and prices in Europe, particularly in Germany and Italy, the two European countries most reliant on gas exports from Russia.

Addressing Italy’s parliament on Friday, Draghi laid out plans to offset price increases and turn to alternative sources of energy.

“The sanctions require us to carefully consider the impact on our economy,” he said.

“The biggest concern is in the energy sector, which has already been hit by price rises in recent months: around 45 percent of the gas we import comes from Russia, up from 27 percent ten years ago.”

Draghi suggested Italy needs to increase its domestic production of gas, which has fallen in recent years, and source more power from existing coal plants.

“The reopening of coal-fired power stations could be used to make up any shortfall in the immediate future,” he said, adding that “the government is ready to intervene to further lower the price of energy, should this be necessary. It is necessary.”

Italy is already in the middle of an energy price crisis, with the authorities last week announcing another €6 billion in aid to offset price hikes following record bill rises last month.

These funds are on top of some €10 billion already budgeted since last summer to help customers and businesses.

READ ALSO: Rising energy prices: How to save money on your bills in Italy

Increasing reliance on coal-fired power would spell an ecological step backwards, as Italy plans in the longer term to achieve climate neutrality by replacing fossil fuels to produce electricity.

As part of Italy’s overall strategy to transition to more sustainable sources of energy, state-backed energy provider Enel closed a coal power plant in La Spezia, Liguria, in December, after closing two others in 2020.

Draghi acknowledged that the new concern about gas supplies shows Italy hasn’t made enough progress in developing alternative energy sources.

“The events of these days demonstrate the imprudence of not having diversified our energy sources and suppliers more in recent decades,” Draghi stated.

“We need to move quickly on the diversification front, to overcome our vulnerability as soon as possible and avoid the risk of future crises.”

He pointed to a slight reprieve that allows us to look forward “with greater confidence”, as winter is coming to an end and warmer months are ahead.

But he said Italy needs to take various measures to diversify imports, increase natural gas production, and  further improve gas storage capacity for the coming years.

On a longer-term scale, Draghi reiterated the need to look towards renewable energy sources.

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ENERGY

Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

As the European energy crisis continues, some cities in Italy have chosen to save on electricity by downsizing regular Christmas displays, thus making this year’s festivities a little less flashy.

Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

With less than a month to go until the Christmas holidays, many might be rejoicing at the prospect of finally seeing their cities lit up by dazzling Christmas displays.

But, as the European energy crisis shows no sign of abating and many cities across the boot keep struggling to square their accounts in the face of soaring bills, some residents may be disappointed to know that this year’s festive decorations might differ from the norm.

Milan, Italy’s economic capital, was one of the very first Italian cities to announce it would significantly reduce Christmas displays to save on energy.

READ ALSO: Lights off and home working: Milan’s new energy-saving plan for winter 

After reports emerged in early October that the city would end up spending a whopping €130 million on energy bills alone in 2022, Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, was quick to warn residents that Christmas decorations would be “restrained” and operate “for shorter periods of time”.

And, it wasn’t long before Sala made good on his promises. 

Earlier this month, the city’s authorities agreed on putting up decorations and light displays on December 7th (that is over two weeks after the usual date) and taking them down on January 6th instead of late January. 

Christmas lights in the streets of central Milan

Christmas lights in Milan will be switched on on December 7th, that is over two weeks after the usual switch-on date. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Also, while in previous years Milan’s city centre was illuminated overnight, this year’s Christmas lights will be switched on at 4pm and switched off at midnight. 

But, while Milan residents might be slightly dissatisfied with the new arrangements, they sure have little to complain about when compared to Rome residents. 

It’ll be a dark Christmas (literally and, perhaps, even figuratively) for most areas of the Eternal City and not merely because of the current energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: The Italians reviving ‘nonna’s’ traditions to keep costs down

The city’s tender for this year’s Christmas lights contract received no bids before its deadline on October 27th, which means that, in many neighbourhoods, festive decorations will be largely left to the goodwill and financial means of the residents.

So while the popular Piazza di Spagna, Porta Pia and Via Alessandria will light up over the holiday season thanks to private funding, the San Giovanni and Tuscolano neighbourhoods and Via Cola di Rienzo are currently expected to remain au naturel.

Christmas light in a street in Rome

Many areas of the capital, Rome, will be without lights this year due to lack of funding. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Things will generally be better in Venice and Florence, where local authorities have recently chosen to maintain their usual arrangements, the only exception being the replacement of regular lights with energy-efficient, LED ones. 

So, while the lighting might be a little softer and displays might not be as remarkable as in previous years, both cities should be able to deal with late-December energy bills more comfortably than they would have had to do otherwise.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Italy has avoided a huge hike in gas prices – for now 

Having said that, not all Italian cities have decided to resize their Christmas offerings on the back of eye-watering electricity prices. 

Naples, which has long been known for the extravagance of its Christmas and New Year celebrations, has seemingly chosen to turn a blind eye to the energy crisis and will allocate as much as €1.5 million (that’s €150,000 to each one of the ten local municipalities) to this year’s displays.

Unsurprisingly, the comune’s decision has been drawing widespread criticism, with many local political figures pointing out that part, if not most, of the above-mentioned amount should have been spent elsewhere, perhaps in the form of a one-off ‘Christmas bonus’ for struggling households and businesses.

The available money should have been used to “turn off the crisis and light up people’s hearts”, city councillors Antonio Culiers and Francesco Flores said in a joint statement earlier this month.

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