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ENERGY

What are the rules on using wood-burning stoves in Italy?

Sales of wood burners have increased since the start of the energy crisis, but some Italian regions have rules regulating their use. Here's where and how they apply.

A retired farmer lights his wood stove.
Some Italian regions offer financial incentives for those who choose to replace their old stoves or fireplaces with new wood burners with a five-star energy rating. Photo by Jean-Francois MONIER / AFP

As the European energy crisis shows no sign of abating, many households in Italy are considering switching to alternative (and more affordable) heating systems this winter.

For some, the best option might be using a wood-burning stove, a heating system which seems to be becoming ever more popular amid the energy crisis. 

According to energy group AIEL (Italian Association for Forestry Energy, or Associazione Italiana Energie Agroforestali), sales of wood- or pellet-burning stoves in the first five months of 2022 rose by 28 percent against the same period of time last year. 

But those who are looking to turn to wood burners to keep warm over winter should be mindful of varing regional rules regulating the use of stoves and fireplaces. 

In fact, five Italian regions – Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany – currently have laws banning residents from using low-efficiency wood burners, backed up by fines of up to €5,000.

What’s the point of these rules?

Regional laws banning the use of low-performance wood burners were introduced well before the current energy crisis to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) and PM (particulate matter) emissions across the country.

All relevant rulings on the subject use the national ‘five-star’ energy rating as their system of reference.

Fireplace with burning fire.

Bans on low-efficiency wood burners were introduced long before the European energy crisis to reduce CO2 and PM (particulate matter) emissions across the country. Photo by Stephane DE SAKUTIN / AFP

In 2017, the Italian government established five different energy classes for wood-burning heating systems and allocated a set number of ‘stars’ to each category.

The lower the number of stars, the greater the ecological impact (i.e. the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere) of the wood burner in question, with ratings from one to five stars.

For a full breakdown of the five energy classes recognised by the Italian government and to know what types of stoves and fireplaces belong in each category, see this extract from the most recent law dating from 2017.

What rules are in place and where?

Laws on wood burners vary from region to region, so here’s a brief overview of the rules enforced by each of the five above-mentioned regions.

Lombardy – As of January 1st, 2020, all Lombardy residents are banned from using wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than four stars. 

Only pellets of the A1 type (i.e. with residual ash lower than 0.7 percent) can be used for pellet-burning stoves with a maximum heat output (potenza termica nominale) of under 35 kW (kilowatts).

Fines for those breaking the rules range from €500 to €5,000, though it’s unclear how or how strictly the rules are enforced.

Veneto – Veneto forbids the use of wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars. 

Also, people looking to install a new wood burner must ensure that the stove or fireplace in question has an energy rating of at least four stars. 

Wood pellets at a plant belonging to Graanul Invest, Europe’s biggest wood pellet producer.

In Lombardy, only pellets of the A1 type can be used for pellet-burning stoves with a maximum heat output lower than 35 kW. Photo by Ivo PANASYUK / AFP

Piedmont – As of October 1st, 2019, Piedmont residents are banned from using wood-burning heating systems with a maximum heat output (potenza termica nominale) lower than 35 kW and an energy rating lower than three stars. 

Also, residents can only install new wood burners with a maximum heat output of 35 kW or more and an energy rating of at least four stars.

For additional details on the rules currently enforced in Piedmont, refer to the following website.

Emilia-Romagna – Things get slightly more complicated in Emilia-Romagna, where residents are banned from using wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars if their homes have an alternative heating system and they live in municipalities (comuni) whose elevation is less than 300 metres above sea level.

Emilia-Romagna also currently offers financial incentives for those who reside in one of the following comuni and choose to replace their old stoves or fireplaces with latest-generation heating systems with a five-star energy rating.

For further information about the rules currently in place in Emilia-Romagna, please consult energy regulator ARPAE’s website.

Tuscany – In Tuscany, rules on the use of wood burners are tethered to the individual PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in diameter) emissions of each comune

That means that, in municipalities that have exceeded the permitted amount of daily PM10 emissions, residents are banned from using stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars, unless wood burners are their only available source of heating or they live in comuni with an elevation of 200 metres above sea level or more.

At the present time, the above ban only applies to the municipalities located in the so-called ‘Piana Lucchese’.

See more details in the following regional decree.

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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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