My colleagues know how proud I am to be Italian. Sicilian actually. The weather is glorious, the food is delicious, people’s hospitality is the best. If you are looking for your next holiday destination, I strongly advise Sicily!
If you are a tourist, it’s an amazing place. If you live there, it’s hell.
Sicily’s unemployment rate averages 22%, against a national rate of 12%. Youth unemployment averages 57%, against a national, already ridiculously high, average of 38%. This means that in Sicily, 57% of people who are between 16 and 35 years old are actively looking for a job without finding it. This is a consequence of a GDP growth that in the island has averaged -12.7% in the last decade.
It’s a scary picture. However, there is a sector that has attracted investors: wind farms. We should be happy – but we aren’t.
State-owned agency Gestore Servizi Energetici has reported that Sicily ended 2016 with 1.7GW of installed capacity in 370 wind farms across the island. This means that very small projects have been built, averaging 4.6MW each. A local source reported last year that another 1.3GW of wind capacity is awaiting approval.
But there is a problem. Since 2005, Sicily has been dealing with an oversupply of electricity, which cannot be exported to the rest of Italy because the grid that links Sicily to the peninsula can handle
a maximum capacity of 1.5GW.
This means that there is already too much electricity in Sicily, and wind turbines are often shut down because the grid cannot handle any more power. If you look at the economic situation in Sicily, you will understand why improvement works to the grid haven’t been viable so far. Hardly a strong market to attract investors.
But construction continues. Why? Well, local media has reported that wind farms in Sicily can guarantee returns four times higher than the initial investment, as a result of generous grants from the Italian government and the European Union. This has helped to generate returns totalling €6.6bn for wind farm owners so far.
It is no wonder that Sicily has attracted investors such as Eni, Enel and Endesa – and it is also no surprise that it has attracted the mafia too, the so called ‘eco-mafia’. Anything that generates big returns interests the mafia. The Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, which is Italy’s police dedicated to fight mafia, calculated last year that around €1.3bn of the above mentioned €6.6bn, has gone to mafia organisations.
That is no surprise, and the result is that some wind turbines stand unused or are never built. Others are used to launder profits from other criminal enterprises. It is understandable that wind energy has become very unpopular among regular Sicilians.
The construction of wind farms owned by the mafia does not bring any value to the local economy. For example, in 2014, five people, including a town mayor, were arrested after a DIA investigation
into development of two Iberdrola-owned wind farms, totalling over 100MW. The police found out that the mafia had forced the developer to use its preferred suppliers, and materials of poor quality. It’s the mafia to decide who can work at their wind farms.
And it is only recently that have we seen much evidence of the authorities fighting back, which they have done by confiscating some projects.
For example, in May the Italian police confiscated wind farms owned by one of the biggest developer in Sicily, Eolo Costruzioni, because of an alleged rtnership with a mafia organisation.
The mafia has been a plague upon Sicily for decades – but this official action could still give some hope. Many wind farms are still in legitimate hands; and the ones that have been confiscated from criminal association should be given to more reputable companies, which are obliged to use them to produce wealth for the territory. This is what the law says - but we see little evidence of it yet.
But I try to stay positive. Such action could still be a way to redeem the reputation of wind on my beautiful island.
The Inflation Reduction Act has sparked major optimism in the US renewables sector, but wind installations still fell 37% last year.