News Analysis: "Green" priorities go local in Italy with plans to transform ex-power plants


Italy's slow-moving transition away from traditional fuel resources is speeding up on a local level as the process begins to convert a handful of power stations into low environmental-impact facilities with innovative new uses.

The country's former state energy monopoly, Enel, is spearheading the project, which is starting out on two out-of-use plants -- Portoscuso, a former oil-fired plant on the island of Sardinia, and Campomarino, a gas turbine plant in the southern region of Molise.

Enel has identified two-dozen total projects across the country that are in some stage of transition. One is a former mining project and the other 23 ex-power plants.

In a statement, Enel called the larger transformation initiative -- dubbed the "Futur-e" strategy -- the company's "most important and ambitious circular economy project."

The phrase "circular economy" is shorthand for a system that minimizes waste by making systems more efficient, reusing as much as possible, and recycling byproducts.

The idea is not new: The Tate Modern museum in London, the Caixa Forum Cultural Center in Madrid, and Lisbon's Tejo Electricity Museum are all housed in what were once urban power stations.

But what is unusual about the projects in Italy, according to Edoardo Zanchini, national vice-president for the largest Italian environmental lobby group Legambiente, is that most of the 23 plants Enel is seeking for transition are comparatively isolated or in under-developed areas -- in contrast to the projects in Britain, Spain, and Portugal, which are located on valuable real-estate in each country's capital.

"It's an ambitious initiative," Zanchini told Xinhua. "Of the 24 separate projects, some are organized better than others. But together they will result in a major environmental step forward for Italy."

Portoscuso and Campomarino are the furthest along of the 24 projects, with companies or other entities vying to head the transformation plans required to submit a formal submission of interest early in 2019. Ten more are plants that are approaching a similar phase of development.

Each proposal will be evaluated by specially appointed commissions made up of local stakeholders, academics, analysts and representatives from Enel. Tenders will be judged based on specific needs of the surrounding community, the innovativeness of the proposal, adherence to the guidelines of the "circular economy" as well as the long term social, economic and environmental sustainability of the ideas.

Enel officials said the former power plants could be transformed into a wide array of other uses, including low environmental-impact smart villages, recreation sites, shopping areas and Internet technology centers.

Francesco Ferrante, a former senator and co-founder of Green Italia, an advocacy group, told Xinhua the usefulness of the projects goes beyond the specific benefits of individual projects.

"There are obvious environmental benefits of making better use of each plant," Ferrante said. "But there is also very important symbolic value, showing that Italy and a major utility like Enel are taking environmental priorities seriously."(2018-12-28 Xinhua)

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