November 9, 2017 / 7:02 PM / a month ago

Italy's new energy plan needs to be greener: Enel CEO

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s new energy strategy needs to give a greater role to green energy to wean the country off reliance on gas and reduce its carbon footprint, the head of Italy’s biggest utility Enel said.

FILE PHOTO: Francesco Starace, CEO and general manager of Enel Group, attends during a news conference to present their partnership with FIA Formula-E Championships at the MAXXI National Museum in Rome, Italy, May 17, 2016 REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The government’s energy roadmap to 2030 will be unveiled on Friday but most details have already emerged from months of consultations, including during parliamentary hearings.

The plan is expected to call for coal power plants to be phased out as soon as 2025 and for renewable energy to account for 27 percent of overall consumption from 17.5 percent in 2015.

It is also expected to give an important role to gas, which is cleaner than coal but it still a fossil fuel. Italy, which imports about 90 percent of its gas needs, generates about 43 percent of its power from gas.

“The strategy looks tilted toward gas rather than renewables. It’s probably a lack of vision or a conservative idea that a country should have at least one fossil fuel alternative for the future,” Enel CEO Francesco Starace told Reuters.

Starace, a nuclear engineer by training, believes a bigger role should be given to renewable energy.

Last week Enel and other top utilities called the European Union’s green energy targets unambitious, urging the bar to be raised in the fight against climate change.

State-controlled Enel, which owns a majority stake in Spanish utility Endesa, is one of Europe’s top renewable energy players and is focusing on green energy and grids to offset the crisis in traditional power generation.

”Phasing out coal by 2025 is doable providing you rush, take quick decisions and get all the permits in time but it’s very uneconomical and dangerous and must be done responsibly,” he said.

Renewable energy is by nature intermittent and gas or coal-fired plants are needed to feed the grid when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Starace said phasing out coal plants was a natural process that depended on the age of the plants. Enel, which has four big coal plants in Italy, has decided to build no new coal-fired facilities anywhere in the world.

“If we allow more renewables into the system then more and more sectors will be electrified and so decarbonized,” he said, adding it was particularly important for the transportation sector which accounted for a fourth of EU emissions.

The new energy plan also focuses on electric mobility and energy efficiency. It is expected to call for a renewal of Italy’s car fleet with the introduction of about 19,000 recharging points across the country.

Enel on Thursday announced plans to spend up to 300 million euros to build around 14,000 vehicle recharging points by 2022.

Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Edmund Blair

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