Press release: 23 May 2023
Legal case demands prompt answer from incoming Enel leadership on planned gas plant
Environmental experts at ClientEarth and WWF Italy have taken legal action over the approval of a new fossil gas power station in the south of Italy.
The groups are challenging the Italian authorities’ decision to allow a new large-scale gas power station to succeed the soon-to-be-retired Federico II coal power plant, located in the Brindisi region. This is despite the new gas power capacity being unnecessary according to official estimates of electricity supply needs, and project owner Enel’s reported plans to abandon new gas projects in favour of renewables.
The environmental groups say that the authorities should not have approved Enel’s project given the damaging impact the gas plant would have on air quality and people’s health, as well as the climate. The groups also claim that the decision process failed to properly address the risks posed by the plans to prized local nature sites.
With the appointment of a new Chairman and CEO, Enel needs to confirm if it will maintain its stated intention to turn the area into a renewable energy hub, or if it will in fact proceed with the proposed fossil fuel project.
The position remains unclear despite information provided by the company following its annual general meeting (AGM). The Italian organisation ReCommon asked the company to clarify whether it will definitively abandon the gas conversion plans of certain coal-fired power plants, including the new project in Brindisi. In Enel’s formal response, it confirmed that following official estimates by Italy’s grid operator Terna, it has become clear that the new Brindisi gas power station is no longer necessary. However, in direct contradiction to this statement, Enel has yet to withdraw its plans for the new Brindisi gas plant and instead intends to oppose the environmental groups’ appeal against the authorities’ decision to approve the development of the project.
ClientEarth lawyer Bellinda Bartolucci said: “The current energy price crisis is a fossil fuel price crisis, with gas front and centre of the problem. Gas is a polluting and expensive fossil fuel, and this project – if developed – would only lock Italy and the Brindisi region into all the negative impacts on the climate, health, nature and household bills that come with burning gas.
“The Italian authorities could have shown that they are serious about protecting people’s futures by making it clear that there is no place for increasing the country’s reliance on harmful and costly fossil fuels. It’s now over to Enel to reiterate its commitment to a gas-free future, by officially withdrawing the project – anything else would contradict the information that it has just provided to its shareholders.”
Mariagrazia Midulla, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF Italy, said: “The electricity system must abandon fossil fuels and move towards rapid and complete decarbonisation by 2035 – this is the goal that many European states have set themselves in the wake of the energy and gas crisis. This is for the climate, but also to ensure the energy independence and sovereignty that only renewables can guarantee. For Brindisi this will bring many, many more jobs.
“Authorising a huge gas-fired power station in 2023 is really out of the question, and even more so in a region such as Puglia, which is fit for renewables. Brindisi can and must work towards a new era, freeing itself from all polluting production, and focusing on its own, enormous natural wealth, starting with the sun. This is the challenge for the city’s politicians, as well as its business leaders, trade unions and, above all, citizens.”
The groups say that this new gas power station risks actively undermining the country’s energy security, as building new gas power capacity and increasing Italian demand for gas will increase the country’s dependency on gas and further expose Italy to price volatility, as illustrated starkly by the current gas crisis.
WWF and ClientEarth are carefully monitoring what will be the future line of Enel's top management, recently appointed at its tense 2023 AGM. Enel had largely garnered investment in support of its choices for renewables and transition.
Investments in new gas infrastructure projects are increasingly coming under scrutiny, with mounting risk of legal challenge, given their damaging impacts and inconsistency with decarbonisation targets.
Midulla added: “Enel’s choice in the direction of renewable energy needs to be maintained and expanded, and it can only come through bold and innovative choices. Shifting this high-capacity power plant from one fossil fuel to another would run counter to vital decarbonisation goals – and many investors’ expectations.”
Notes to editors:
ClientEarth and WWF Italy’s legal action against the new gas power station was brought before the Lazio-Rome Regional Administrative Court. The hearing in the case will take please 19 July 2023.
In 2022, the Administrative Court of Rome confirmed that Enel must shut down Federico II in its coal plant format by 2025. Enel then announced plans to build 1,680 megawatts of new gas capacity at the site of its soon-to-be-retired coal plant in Brindisi.
However, later that year, Enel was reported to no longer be interested in going forward with several of its proposed gas power stations – including Federico II.
The latest report by Terna, the country’s grid operator, showed that the new gas plant is not needed to ensure the stability of Italy’s power grid.
Ahead of Enel’s annual general meeting (AGM) on 10 May 2023, Italian organisation and shareholder of Enel ReCommon, submitted the following question to the company: "Does Enel confirm that it is permanently renouncing the conversion of the Brindisi Sud, Civitavecchia and La Spezia coal-fired power plants?"
As part of Enel’s official response, the company answered in Italian saying, “With regard to the Brindisi coal-fired power plant, Enel had started the authorisation process for a possible conversion to gas in the event that the results of the auctions called by Terna showed that new flexible gas-fired capacity was needed in the southern area. In the last auction, held in February 2022, this need did not however emerge and therefore the construction of a new gas plant in Brindisi is no longer necessary. Similarly, no gas conversion activities are underway at the Civitavecchia and La Spezia sites.” The full answer in Italian is due to be published by 10 June 2023.
Earlier this year, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she intends to turn the country into a “hub for Europe’s gas supply” – a plan that is “uneconomic and counterproductive” as explained by the Italian climate experts ECCO, but gas supply is also separate to the issue of gas demand, the latter being what this project will serve to increase.
A report by Carbon Tracker from 2021 showed 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.
ClientEarth and WWF, together with two other organisations, recently took the European Commission to court to stop the EU labelling fossil gas as ‘sustainable’ in its sustainable finance rulebook, known as the Taxonomy. Eight Greenpeace organisations simultaneously filed a court case against the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the EU Taxonomy and Austria, supported by Luxembourg, filed a similar court case in October 2022.
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.
WWF is the world's largest nature conservation organization with 5 million supporters, a global network active in over 100 countries and more than 2,000 activated projects. Founded in 1961, the World Wide Fund for Nature was established with the mission of protecting and conserving nature and the ecological processes of the Planet. In Italy, WWF was founded in 1966 and today has a nationwide presence. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For more info: www.wwf.it