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Why one southern Italian region is giving residents free gas

Italy is bracing for energy costs to soar ever higher - but there's one Italian region whose inhabitants will be protected from the worst of the shocks.

Some Italian residents will soon be exempted from paying for gas, thanks to a deal with energy companies.
Some Italian residents will soon be exempted from paying for gas, thanks to a deal with energy companies. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

As Russia prepares to cut off its gas supply to Europe for several days this week – ostensibly to conduct maintenance work on its Nord Stream gas pipeline – Italy is readying itself for the shock, with new aid measures due to be announced by the end of August and an emergency energy-saving plan on standby.

Gas prices in Italy shot up last week to 321 euros per megawatt hour – a rate Italian business groups slammed as ‘unsustainable’ and consumer groups described as an ‘emergency’.

The country’s electricity prices have also continued to soar, recently reaching 718 euros per megawatt hour.

READ ALSO: Italy to bring in new aid measures as energy prices soar

But there’s one Italian region whose residents will soon be shielded from the worst of the fuel price hikes.

Basilicata, often dubbed ‘the Texas of Italy’ in the Italian press because of its vast oil reserves and numerous production facilities, passed a regional law last week slashing inhabitants’ gas bills from October.

The region’s governor Vito Bardi has been in talks for the past few months with the major energy companies operating in the region (Eni, Total and Shell) to secure “environmental compensation” for residents, many of whom live with elevated air pollution levels as a result of the extraction activities.

Those negotiations have now resulted in an agreement that the companies will supply approximately 200 million cubic meters of gas to the region for free each year until 2029. The measure was reportedly passed into law in a vote by Basilicata’s regional council last Wednesday.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

Speaking to the council, Bardi said he had wanted to come up with “an objective and automatic system that would allow the citizens of Basilicata to receive the compensation directly, without intermediation by the Region.”

In the past, he noted, it was left up to political parties to decide how compensation funds would be used, “with the result that the citizens of Basilicata have never seen any concrete benefits.”

It is hoped that the initiative will play a role in helping to resolve Basilicata’s depopulation problem and even encourage new families to move to the region, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

While homeowners will no longer be on the hook for the gas itself, the law doesn’t mean people’s energy bills will be cut to zero: residents will continue to be required to pay for transport costs and systems charges.

Still, the average household is expected to save over 50 percent as a result of the measure.

The relief will only be available in private homes, not commercial settings; and will apply solely to primary residences, as opposed to second/holiday homes.

In all, approximately 110,000 families are expected to benefit from the cut.

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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.