Italy builds first offshore wind farm amid push for energy independence

Italy is close to completing what is thought to be the first offshore wind farm in the Mediterranean as it tries to free itself from heavy reliance on imported gas.

Italy builds first offshore wind farm amid push for energy independence
Wind turbines under construction at the Taranto offshore wind farm, thought to be the first in the Mediterranean. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

The Beleolico offshore wind turbine park will stretch out from the port in Taranto, a southern city known for its polluting steel plant, down in the heel of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula.

Italy’s cabinet has also recently approved six new wind farms to be built on land, from Sardinia to Basilicata.

After being held back for years by red tape, wind farms are now getting the go-ahead as Italy looks to renewable energy as the solution to its energy crisis.

READ ALSO: Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European Union countries to pledge to reduce dependency on Russian gas.

Italy was among them – despite being one of the EU’s biggest users and importers of gas. At the moment, gas represents 42 percent of energy consumption in the country – which has no nuclear power, just two operational coal plants, and only 20 percent of its energy needs covered by renewables.

Italy imports 95 percent of the gas it uses, and 45 percent of this currently comes from Russia.

The Italian government last week pledged to stop using Russian gas by 2025, with its short-term strategy focused on increasing gas supplies from other countries as well as returning to domestic production.

But an “accelerated investment in renewables… remains the only key strategy in the long term,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi told parliament.

Once complete, the Beleolico wind farm off Taranto will have 10 bottom-fixed, red and white-bladed turbines, capable of powering 21,000 homes.

Renexia, the company behind it, says it also has plans for a vast floating wind farm with 190 turbines off the island of Sicily, which would produce energy for 3.4 million families and create hundreds of jobs.

Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Italy’s Ministry for the Ecological Transition¬† has received 64 expressions of interest for floating offshore wind farms — but the number of projects held up by bureaucracy is “staggering”, WindEurope said. Beleolico, which Renexia hopes will be operational by May, has been 14 years in the making.

Greenpeace Italy head Giuseppe Onufrio slammed the delays as “absurd”.

“Some (farms) are authorised after six, seven years, and the technology changes year by year and so the risk is that plants are authorised despite being outdated.”

Draghi insists the government “is working to streamline procedures, cut red tape and speed up investments”.

But Davide Tabarelli, economics professor and head of energy think tank Nomisma Energia, told AFP he was “amazed and stupefied” to see Draghi describe renewables as the “only key strategy”.

Beleolico “is constantly being thrown around as the immediate solution to the energy crisis, and the fact that we can do without gas, especially Russian gas”, he said.

But there are several “serious problems”, he said, not least the difficulties storing wind energy, for suitable batteries do not exist, leading to waste.

Rome’s vow that it is readying to cut the use of Russian gas is remarkable, he added, “as if, after 30 years of promises on renewables, the problem could be solved in the space of a few weeks”.

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Italy’s Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived on Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli for talks on energy as well as the thorny issue of migration, Libyan state media said.

Italy's Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Meloni’s trip – her second to a North African country this week – is the first by a European leader to war-battered Libya since her predecessor Mario Draghi’s visit in April 2021.

State television said the Italian premier was received by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based, UN brokered Government of National Unity which is contested by a rival administration in the east.

Libya and its former colonial power Italy are key trade partners, particularly in energy, where Italian giant Eni plays a major role in tapping into Africa’s largest known oil reserves.

Meloni was accompanied by Eni chief Claudio Descalzi, who is expected to sign a deal with Libya’s National Oil Company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields.

Eni will invest $8 million in the two fields, NOC chief Farhat Bengdara said in televised remarks this week, adding they are expected to produce 850 million cubic metres of gas.

Meloni visited Algeria on Monday seeking supply deals from Africa’s top gas exporter to help reduce reliance on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

During her trip to Libya, she is also expected to discuss the issue of migration amid rising numbers of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.

Libya has been wracked by years of conflict and division since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country is a conduit for thousands of people each year fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.

Meloni’s far-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022.

The central Mediterranean route is considered the world’s most treacherous, according to the International Organization for Migration, which estimated that 1,377 migrants had disappeared on that route last year.