By Gero Di Piazza

As the Italian energy sector braces itself for liberalization, fears of power shortages are being addressed with the implementation of wind turbines on the country’s southern and mountainous island of Sicily.

Indigenous energy sources are one thing that Italy lacks, so plans to implement wind turbines have been welcomed in the country by local municipalities, especially in the southern regions where studies show that wind conditions are good.

Since Italy’s energy supplies depend heavily on imported fossil fuels, the government has been in favour of developing domestically available resources, with special emphasis on renewables, for diversification and security reasons and to relieve the balance of trade. Other relevant sources that have helped the Italian market get by and meet demand are hydroelectric and to a much lesser extent geothermal plants. But as demand is stronger with the growing population, those sources have reached breaking point and are struggling to cope – hence wind power is slated to grow in Italy.

It is worth remembering, however, that wind development has so far taken place mostly within a limited area of southern Italy, and continued growth may well require more sites to be found all over the country. With this in mind, the research and testing company CESI has undertaken a programme aimed at drawing a more comprehensive picture of Italy’s wind potential. Under contract to the Ministry of Industry, this work includes completion of a general wind map of Italy, in cooperation with the University of Genoa, and assessment of the feasibility and economics of wind power plants in mountain areas above 1000 m altitudes, as well as offshore.

Although ways of generating more renewable power have always been considered, the idea of wind power has never been taken too seriously by Italians, not even 14 years ago when the 1988 National Energy Plan set a target of 300 MW to be installed by 2000. The state’s actual financial support to wind plant installations has been poor. But this was not a problem for the industry as it comfortably flourished with the help of the Interministerial Committee for Prices (CIP), which in 1992 introduced a law that provided for premium purchase prices to be paid for electricity produced from renewable sources. These incentives raised a surge along with the applaudable efforts of local governments, to introduce wind power.

New investment

Currently, under the Enel group, combined wind capacity reaches, or will reach once current projects are completed, 800 MW. Enel’s former renewable energy arm Erga, which now trades under its new name Enel green power, last year completed three wind farms in Sicily and is in the process of building further plants. The company’s target is to install up to 350 MW over the next few years. Two years ago during a press conference, Paolo Pietrogrande, CEO of Enel green power, detailed plans of a a259 million wind farm investment on the island that would span from 2000-05.


The 7.5 MW wind farm in Palermo at the Sclafagni Bagni site
Click here to enlarge image

Edison ES, the renewable energy arm of Edison, Italy’s second largest power producer, has installed 50 MW of wind capacity in Italy. It was, until recently due to Enel green power’s plans, one of the biggest wind producers in Italy.

The wind potential in Sicily has been estimated at 2000 MW, but Enel green power is only planning to implement around 400 MW on the island. By next year it hopes to have installed around 190 MW. The three recent projects, which currently supply some 10-11 000 homes, all have expansion plans that will be carried out within the coming months after a permitting process is approved where some 30 MW will be added to each wind farm. On top of this, other sites have been drawn up, including a 48 MW project in Scalfani and a 34 MW project in Nicosia. Enel green power has targeted only three regions to construct turbines based on wind measurements.

So far, Enel’s projects have gone to plan at this stage with the installation of three wind farms in Caltabellotta (Agrigento), Sclafani Bagni (Palermo) and Carlentini (Siracusa). The first project generates 7.5 MW and the second and third have a 7.26 MW capacity. All three began production last year and were connected to the grid just six months ago and are therefore under “power curve testing”, says one Enel official. Enel green power is constantly looking for new sites throughout Sicily. Stefano Savio, key developer for wind projects in Sicily, says: “For sure the mountainous terrain in Sicily provides good wind conditions. But at the same time you have several problems with transportation and erection of turbines because of access to the site as the few roads that exist are narrow.

“Environmental and landscape issues are also to be taken seriously into account and for this reason flat coastal lands are almost out of limits, as are areas near to archaeological sites. So scouting for sites is really not so easy.” He continues: “At the time we have three wind farms in operation and about 200 MW under permitting process. It takes almost one year to obtain all the licenses for building so we already own the land and have set agreements with local municipalities. We also pay a 1.5 per cent fee of net turnover for energy supplied on the network to the municipalities.”

Installation

There are not many large wind turbine manufacturers in Italy. This has more to do with the fact that the few that do exist have developed an exclusive position in the market and therefore hold dominant market leadership, rather than lack of company interest, as many small wind turbine manufacturers would fiercely argue.

Foreign wind turbine companies too have strong Italian links. For example, Italian Wind Technology (IWT), based in Taranto, was developed by one of the world’s top turbine manufacturers, Vestas Wind Systems.

The Danish outfit has installed a total of 443 MW of wind power all over Italy. The most popular model used is the V47-660, of which 396 have been ordered due to its high reliability and power generation capabilities. One sizeable project developed by Enel for which Vestas supplied the turbines was last year’s installation of 22 V47-600 kW turbines, producing

14 520 kW between two sites at Palermo and Siracusa. The project was installed June 2001. Francesco Amati, who works in the sales department at IWT said: “One V47 wind turbine can produce, at certain wind conditions, about 2 million kWh per year – that may be the consumption of almost 1000 households.”

Green tickets

Most of the plants completed or under construction are still entitled to the benefits provided under the national CIP Directive No. 6/92, which offered special buy-back prices for renewable energy investors. In 2000, the price for wind-generated electricity was fixed at a0.10/kWh for the first eight years of plant operation and a0.05/kWh for the remaining lifetime. A number of projects entitled to these prices are still under way.

Green certificates for new renewable power will be issued by GRTN, the grid operator, in multiples of 100 MWh. The certificates for electricity produced by plants still entitled to CIP support will be assigned to GRTN, which must sell them at a fixed price, based on the difference between the old CIP price and the current market price.

The public’s attitude towards wind power has been reasonably positive considering lengthy permitting procedures. This, and visual impact, are issues that confront developers. But this has nothing to do with the Sicilian population welcoming the projects, says one Enel green power official. It has more to do with it being the first project on the island so reactions could change once the public are more informed.

Although wind potential in Sicily has been declared, offshore turbines around the island have been dismissed by Enel officials and turbine manufacturers due to the depth of the sea bed surrounding the island being too deep to set a foundation. Amato said: “The most interesting regions in wind energy are Sicily, Sardinia, and central mountainous areas in southern Italy, but the Italian offshore situation is not so developed because there are ‘touristic priorities’ and technical problems to front. An offshore project needs to be placed where the sea is not so deep – ten to 15 m foundation costs are high, and the Mediterranean sea is deep in general. In addition, the position must not be so far from the coast because the costs for submarine electrical cabling are high too.”

Nonetheless, the lack of offshore projects will not hinder Sicily’s lucrative energy potential developments as more energy companies, including foreign outfits, look over their shoulders to negotiate an offer they cannot refuse.