By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Italy announced it will hold the first of seven auctions for renewable energy in September, aiming at selecting producers for the first 500 megawatts of clean power under the terms of a June ruling from the European Union (EU).
The 5.4-billion-euro (6.1 billion-U.S. dollar) plan calls for Italy to generate at least 4.8 gigawatts of new energy through the use of solar and wind power generation over a two-year span. Based on typical energy use in Italy, one gigawatt -- the amount of energy produced by around 3 million solar panels or 430 large-scale wind turbines -- is enough to power around one million homes.
The first 500 megawatt auction will take place on Sept. 30, allowing companies and other entities producing at least one megawatt of power to participate. Projects will be evaluated based on price and other factors, such as access to power grids. The Italian decree also includes separate, smaller auctions for projects producing less than one megawatts of power.
Agricultural projects are not eligible to participate in the auction, meaning developers will have to build their projects in industrial areas or unused plots in urban zones.
In addition to the Sept. 30 auction, similar auctions will take place on Jan. 31, May 31, and Sept. 30 in both 2020 and 2021. The first two rounds will be for 500 megawatts each, the next three for 700 megawatts, and the final two for 800 megawatts.
According to Andrea Zaghi, director-general of industry group Elettricità Futura, Italy is already on pace to meet EU-mandated renewable energy targets. The country currently gets around 16 percent of its energy mix from renewable sources. The targets are for that figure to increase to at least 17 percent by the end of next year and to 30 percent by 2030.
"These 500 megawatts (in the first auction) are not an insignificant amount of energy," Zaghi told Xinhua, adding "I think these auctions mean we won't need further decrees to reach our goals. But we will have to see how the prices go in the auction."
Zaghi, a former director of the Italian renewable energy association Assorinnovabili, went on: "The 30-percent goal (for 2030) is ambitious. We can reach it but we cannot be complacent."
But Mariagrazia Midulla, head of the climate and energy division for WWF-Italia, an environmental lobby group, said Italy should still be doing more.
"This decree dates back to previous governments," Midulla said in an interview. "Each government should be doing its part. It's not enough to try to reach the minimum standard. Italy is a natural base for wind energy and solar energy. We should be doing much more."
Midulla said that companies interested in producing renewable energy in Italy are being held back by a lack of regulatory certainty and inconsistent priorities from different governments.
"Look at (Italian utility giant) Enel, which has made big investments in renewable energy outside Italy but has done very little in the country," Midulla said.