In Italy, land-use debates are sparked by renewable energy initiatives

Simona Fino glanced at her Mac in surprise at Gianfranco Fino’s new winery outside Manduria, Italy. According to a local news story, an energy business offered to install 19 wind turbines as high as 337 feet all around vineyards, and local lawmakers appeared to have ignored the proposal. Fino, who spearheaded a victorious fight against a projected wind plant near Manduria vineyards in 2013, was enraged by the news item. “How can they carry on with this devastation?” she wonders.

“When you adore all of this, it’s incredible to imagine that someone could damage its peace and beauty,” she says, alluding to the region’s lush Primitivo grapes. On her computer screen, she witnessed a decrease in the ocean. Hundreds of solar farms and hundreds of wind turbines have already been proposed in rural locations, including well-known wine regions, as Italy strives to decarbonize its economy.

In and near 4 well-known wine production regions in Southern Italy: Brindisi, Manduria, Salice Salentino, and Squinzano, ten wind farms totaling 146 wind turbines with a height of up to 656 feet have been proposed and are awaiting approval. The initiatives enrage rural communities and wineries, who fear that they will increase land competition. Some argue that not enough consideration is given to the site of new renewable energy facilities and have dubbed the projects “colonization,” “land grabs,” and “invasion.” Others have called for an “all-out war.”

“If they undertake something like this, they’ll start a never-ending battle,” Fino predicts. The new proposed initiatives are motivated by several causes. Like the rest of the European Union, Italy has committed to sourcing at least 30% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2030. Wind energy generation in the country lags behind the rest of the EU, with wind farms meeting only 7% of total energy demand. As per the local news media, this is due to the lengthy bureaucratic process required to approve a project and local opposition.

Local politicians, however, claim that the process is overly centralized and that local governments lack effective instruments to regulate the construction of new plants and include the public. “The objective at the national level is to contribute to renewable energy investments,” said Fabio Tarantino, who is a local politician who does oppose the proposed wind farm location. “However, there has been very little on-the-ground planning, so the choice of location is left to private enterprises’ initiative.”

According to local campaigners, Manduria and Salice Salentino were chosen because they could help businesses maximize earnings. They’re near a grid connection, and agricultural land is inexpensive, especially after an incurable fungus known as Xylella fastidiosa destroyed the olive trees that once dominated the countryside alongside the vineyards.

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