Italian green energy reps call for COVID-19 reprieve as red tape starts to bite

Image credit: Markus Kniebes / Flickr

The global campaign to protect renewables from the COVID-19 crisis has now extended to one of the worst-hit countries, with the industry calling for action against permitting bottlenecks.

Green energy representatives in Italy – home to 80,000-plus COVID-19 cases at the time of writing – urged the government this week to help minimise the pandemic’s impacts on the industry since 10 March, when the country entered a state of total lockdown.

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A statement from association ANIE Rinnovabili spelled out the “difficulties” piling on sector players since the outbreak. The trade body spoke of developers’ struggle to secure a guarantee from financial institutions and project authorisations from regulatory bodies.

This strained “dialogue” has, ANIE Rinnovabili said, been compounded by issues around the supply of components and connection requests. The current fear is that the pandemic-driven “stalemate” will be prolonged, the association added.

To mitigate impacts, the trade body proposed delaying the upcoming renewable auction of 31 May 2020 and grant 180-day deadline extensions to winners of earlier auctions. The 180-day reprieve should also cover general deadlines for permitting and connection points, ANIE Rinnovabili said.

If assisted now, the green energy sector could contribute towards Italy’s economic recovery, the association argued. Once COVID-19 subsides, the country should regain the “lost ground” by creating working groups to discuss the simplification of project authorisation rules, the trade body added.

COVID-19 haunts solar hotspot on the road to 50GW

Much like its European peers, Italy’s efforts to overcome the COVID-19 crisis come at a time when it must also work to deliver ambitious solar growth targets in the space of a decade.

As ANIE Rinnovabili itself noted during an interview with PV Tech last year, national goals require installed PV capacity to surge from the current 20GW-plus to 50GW by 2030. The boom would demand reviving a PV market paralysed by the phase-out of feed-in tariffs in the early 2010s.

Rome has endeavoured to drive progress by relaunching its renewable auction scheme. However, solar has remained largely absent from the new tender scheme so far, securing a meagre 5MW in contracts where wind power bidders bagged 495MW worth of support.

In line with fellow Mediterranean state Spain, developers appear instead to be exploring the subsidy-free route. In the past year alone, Italy witnessed PPA and fully merchant solar moves by a utility (1GW), a developer (80MW) and an investor-IPP duo (120MWp).

As has been noted at various events, industry operators feel Italy’s green energy push may suffer under the country’s complex authorisation process, with issues – a maze of permitting rules, the reportedly tricky interactions with landowners – predating the arrival of the COVID-19 virus.  

The talk of bureaucracy has seen some commentators conclude smaller-scale PV, and not ground-mount, is where Italy’s solar opportunity lies at currently. At an event in London last year, a speaker said firms “would be crazy” not to focus on economically sounder rooftop and home systems.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in Italy and the rest of Europe will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar Europe 2020 (Lisbon, on 30 June-1 July 2020).

This publication has also set up a tracker to map out how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting solar supply chains worldwide. You can read the latest updates here.

If you have a COVID-19 statement to share or a story on how the pandemic is disrupting a solar business anywhere in the world, do get in touch at [email protected] or [email protected].

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