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ENERGY

Drought hits Italy’s hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydroelectric power production in Italy has plunged this year thanks to a severe drought that has also sparked water restrictions and fears for agriculture, industry sources said on Friday.

Drought hits Italy's hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis
Agriculture, energy and household water supplies have been hit as Italy’s Po River suffers the worst drought in 70 years. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Hydropower facilities, mostly located in the mountains in the country’s north, usually cover almost one fifth of Italy’s energy demands.

But the ongoing lack of rain is causing problems at a time when Rome is desperately trying to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Italy’s heatwave to last another week and get even hotter, say forecasts

“From January to May 2022, hydro production fell by about 40 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2021,” a spokesman for Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, told AFP.

“Hydro production has been steadily decreasing since July 2021,” he said, blaming “the severe shortage of water even at high levels”.

An industry source told AFP that while the situation was constantly changing, estimates for the first six months of 2022 suggest nationwide hydroelectric generation will be almost half the equivalent period of 2021.

One small plant near Piacenza, southeast of Milan, was shut indefinitely on June 21st due to low levels on the River Po that feeds it, the Enel energy company said.

READ ALSO: How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

“Considering the current drought situation, other hydro plants are not operating at full capacity,” a spokesman added, without giving further details.

The Po River, which stretches across the north of the country, is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water. Much of it used by farmers, but the area is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.

Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.

Local authorities say the situation in the area has been “extremely delicate” since last week, with four regions asking the national government to declare a state of emergency and hundreds of towns now rationing water.

In the northwest region of Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities according to the ANSA news agency.

Drought in Italy: What water use restrictions are in place and where?

The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the Arno, Aniene and Tiber rivers have also dropped.

Arid conditions are set to worsen as the heatwave currently gripping Italy is expected to last until the end of June, with temperatures around the country of “up to 40°C in the shade” forecast early next week.

In Milan and Turin, a massive increase in electricity usage for cooling day and night has pushed the electricity grid beyond its limits over the past week, leading to blackouts.

With many parts of Europe experiencing unusually high temperatures for this time of year, experts have repeatedly warned that longer, earlier heatwaves are a consequence of global heating.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push temperatures towards 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, she added.

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HEATWAVE

Italy reports a surge in deaths this summer due to extreme heat

A series of intense heatwaves caused Italy's mortality rate to spike in June and July, according to a health ministry report.

Italy reports a surge in deaths this summer due to extreme heat

Italy’s heat-related mortality rate was 21 percent above the seasonal average for the first two weeks of July, the health ministry said in a bulletin published on Monday.

There were 733 more deaths in 33 major Italian cities monitored by health authorities between July 1st and July 15th than in a typical year – a 21 percent increase on the average for that period.

READ ALSO: Will summer 2022 be Italy’s hottest ever?

Some central-southern parts of the country, where the heat has been particularly concentrated, experienced a far sharper spike in the death rate: by up to 72 percent in Latina and 56 percent in Viterbo (respectively south and north of Rome); 56 percent in Bari (Puglia); 51 percent in Cagliari (Sardinia); and 48 percent in Catanzaro (Calabria).

June also saw more deaths than in a typical year in Italy, the numbers show: a nine percent increase on seasonal averages over the course of the month.

“This first analysis shows that the high temperatures and heat waves that affected our country in June and in the first two weeks of July were associated with an increase in mortality, especially in the central-southern regions most affected by intensity and duration of the phenomenon,” the ministry’s bulletin reads.

Italy, along with much of the rest of mainland Europe, has been battered by a series of heatwaves this summer that have fuelled forest fires and drained rivers.

The Po Valley in the north of the Italy, one of country’s most important agricultural areas, is currently experiencing its worst drought in 70 years, decimating the risotto rice farms that make up much of the area.

Average temperatures of between two and three degrees above the seasonal average were consistently recorded across the country between May and June, with spikes of up to 10 degrees in some areas.

Similar highs are forecast for August, with warnings from meteorologists that mercury levels could shoot up 10C or even 15C higher than the average for this month.

In July, factory workers across the Piedmont region went on strike after the sudden death of a worker at an automotive manufacturing plant was linked to heat exhaustion.

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