INTERVIEW - Complex permitting, local hesitance are floating wind's main enemies in Italy
Ksenia Balanda, Head of Offshore Italy for Renantis/BlueFloat Energy partnership, speaks at the World Hydrogen & Renewables Italy conference. Image credits: World Hydrogen Leaders.
Offshore wind development in Italy is hindered by a very slow and less-established permitting process compared to other European countries and by hesitance among both politicians and communities, says an industry specialist, who, however, is hopeful that positive changes are incoming.
Ksenia Balanda is in charge of project development in the Mediterranean for a joint venture between renewables developer Renantis and offshore wind developer BlueFloat Energy, as Head of Offshore Italy. She is familiar with the difficulties one faces while working on the authorisation of projects as her role involves engaging with decision-making bodies, as well as regional and local communities.
Last month, Balanda attended the World Hydrogen & Renewables Italy conference in Milan, where she joined other speakers discussing the subject of offshore wind development. She made further comments for Renewables Now on the topic of project development obstacles.
“I would start by pointing out that floating offshore wind farms are crucial for reaching Italy’s renewable energy objectives. Obstacles, for us, are elements that slow down a project’s development and this is where we place our focus,” Balanda stated.
“Firstly, Italy has a limited track record in consenting offshore wind projects, so the permitting process is less established and defined than in other European countries, so obtaining approvals takes time. Many of the institutions involved are dealing with offshore-related aspects for the first time and this, naturally, takes time. The Government is aware of the situation and has declared its ambition to speed up the relevant processes, already making adjustments like increasing the number of staff working in the respective EIA Ministerial Commission to move things along quicker.
“We also recognise that there is still a long way to go to develop trusting relationships with local politicians and communities. Local reluctance, known informally as NIMBY-ism (“not in my backyard”) and NIMTO-ism (“not in my term of office”), can be caused by a lack of information and experience in addressing these developments. Our approach from the beginning has been to engage stakeholders at the earliest possible point in our projects. This means meeting local stakeholders, sharing facts on the projects, explaining the technology, its benefits, how we plan to develop, listening and taking on board their concerns. For us, it is crucial to establish a transparent dialogue with all stakeholders upfront and this gives us the opportunity to clearly explain opportunities that our projects can bring. For our existing projects, we began engaging with local communities before we even commenced the authorisation process, and we will continue these relationships through the development process and throughout the project’s whole lifecycle.”
As a continuation of the topic of local legislation, Balanda expressed optimism that a long-awaited decree bringing support for renewables will be adopted in 2023.
“What we have seen in the FER 2 draft gives us hope that the government believes in floating offshore technology, and acknowledges the need for longer-term, ambitious offshore wind targets to justify investments in a new industry. We are eagerly awaiting its final sign-off and are hopeful that it’ll come before the end of the year.”
As discussed by other panelists at the conference in Milan, it is rather difficult to book engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors for onshore renewables in Italy because “the best ones” are already engaged. Balanda says that the situation with the floating offshore technology is fairly different because it is still in its infancy and the supply chain in Europe is yet to be developed in full.
“To invest in production facilities, suppliers need clear investment signals by governments. These indications include clear objectives in terms of installed capacities by 2030-2035, a willingness to support new technology with dedicated incentive mechanisms, lean permitting processes, investments in infrastructure such as ports, and secured grid connections,” she said.
Renantis, formerly Falck Renewables, is currently developing six floating wind projects off Italy with a combined capacity of 5.5 GW in partnership with BlueFloat Energy. Two are located in Puglia, namely Odra Energia (1.3 GW) and Kailia Energia (1.2 GW); one is in Calabria, called Minervia Energia (675 MW); and three are planned for Sardinia – Nora Energia 1 and Nora Energia 2 (1.4 GW), as well as Tibula Energia (975 MW).
“For each of the projects, we invested in a strong scoping phase to provide a solid foundation for success. Although optional, this preliminary consultation phase has given us better visibility at an early stage so that we can address the contents of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS), necessary for the subsequent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure,” Balanda pointed out.
At present, the partnership is finalising the technical, scientific, and environmental studies for the EIA in relation to the two projects in Puglia. These are expected to be submitted by the end of 2023, while progress on the rest of the portfolio is to follow next year, she concluded.