Press release: 11 June 2021

Italy’s biggest coal plant to swap one fossil fuel for another – ClientEarth reaction

Energy experts at ClientEarth and WWF Italy have reacted to the phase-out plan for Italy’s biggest coal plant, saying that owner Enel’s plan to convert the plant to burn gas would contradict national and EU-level climate commitments.

The plan outlines how Enel intends to shut down Federico II – ranked among Europe’s coal plants as one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) – by 2025. After years of the plant breaching environmental laws, the plan marks a definitive shift away from coal in Italy.

However, to do so, Enel plans to convert 1,680 megawatts of the coal plant to burn gas, which would make it one of the biggest conversion plans in Italy. This would keep gas – another fossil fuel emitting large amounts of climate-damaging greenhouse gases – in the country’s energy mix for decades.

ClientEarth lawyer Bellinda Bartolucci said: “Gas is a fossil fuel, so Enel’s proposal isn’t a timeline for shutting down Federico II, it’s actually a plan to keep it operating but with another fossil fuel in the furnace.

“Investing in gas is completely at odds with Europe’s new 2030 climate target and its commitments under the Paris Agreement. Gas is falsely seen to be a ‘cleaner’ alternative to coal, but as well as CO2 emissions, gas also leaks methane when extracted and distributed, which, over the short and medium term, is even more climate-damaging than carbon dioxide.

“Pumping money into gas instead of investing in renewables will put the burden of dealing with the consequences of continuing to burn fossil fuels on future generations. If Italy is serious about protecting its future, it will recognise that there is no place for gas in its energy mix.”

The planned conversion comes amid a surge of Italian energy operators applying for new gas permits, which would add an additional 14,000 megawatts of power to Italy’s energy mix. However, reports show that investing in new gas plants risks Italy €11 billion in stranded assets due to the increasingly competitive price of renewables and the soaring carbon price.

Mariagrazia Midulla, head of climate and energy at WWF Italy said: "Enel wants to be recognised globally for its vision of a zero-carbon future and its investments in renewable technologies, but converting Federico II to burning gas goes entirely against that vision.

“We expect Enel to play a proactive role and meet the 2025 deadline to phase-out coal in Italy, without setting unacceptable conditions. Vast amounts of additional gas capacity is completely unnecessary to meet Italy’s energy needs.

“We would like Enel, together with civil society, to engage in an effective and meaningful debate on a sustainable development plan for the region of the former plant, which puts renewable energy sources, including storage, at the forefront. Doing so would be investing in the future of the region and would compensate the people of Brindisi, at least partially, for the impact the coal plant has had on their health and wellbeing”.


Notes to editors:

The Brindisi Sud power plant, known as Federico II, is one of Europe's largest coal-fired power plants, with an original capacity of 2.6 gigawatts. It is listed among Europe's 30 most polluting plants in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Despite no longer running at full capacity, Federico II still emitted more than 3.7 million tonnes in 2020. It is operated by Enel SpA, Europe’s biggest utility.

In 2017, ClientEarth and WWF Italy launched a legal action against Federico II’s permit as it allowed the plant to pollute above legal limits. Since it began operating in the 1990s, the plant has undergone no environmental or health impact checks. Despite this, Federico II had been granted permission to operate for another 11 years.

In April 2020, Enel submitted a new permit, which ClientEarth and WWF Italy also challenged. Under the new permit, Enel is obliged to provide a plan by May 2021 detailing how it intends to close Federico II by 2025. This plan has been published here.

In March 2020, Enel applied to convert part of Federico II to burn gas. ClientEarth and WWF Italy will follow the procedure closely and take action where necessary to prevent Federico II from being converted to burning gas.

The EU has pledged to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and to be climate neutral by 2050. According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), to reach climate neutrality by 2050, would require zero-emissions electricity worldwide by 2040.

The Italian government has announced it plans to phase out coal by the end of 2025.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

About WWF Italy

WWF Italy is an environmental organisation associated with WWF International. In Italy, WWF was founded in 1966, to defend nature and the living species on our planet. WWF’s vision is to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature. WWF is also committed to a future where the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are stabilised and where we take active steps to help people and nature adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. Today, with the help of citizens and the involvement of companies and institutions, it contributes incisively to the conservation of natural ecosystems and climate both in Italy and worldwide.