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Rome (AFP) – A state-appointed commissioner Tuesday gave the green light to a controversial new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal considered crucial to Italy’s plan to phase out Russian gas.
The approval came after new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told parliament that his government’s priority would be to help businesses and households deal with very high energy bills and to invest in alternative energy sources.
Despite opposition from environmental activists and locals, Commissioner Eugenio Giani said at a press conference in Florence that a floating storage and regasification unit will be set up in the port of Piombino in Tuscany.
Golar Tundra, owned by Italian gas group Snam, is expected to start operating by the end of March and will allow gas to be easily transported to the heavily industrialized north of the country.
The project was an important part of former prime minister Mario Draghi’s plan to reduce Italy’s dependence on Russian gas after the invasion of Ukraine.
Energy minister Roberto Cingolani, who continues his advisory role to help Meloni, said earlier this month that the Piombino terminal is “necessary for national security”.
This was echoed by Claudio Descalzi, head of Italian energy giant Eni, who said Italy “absolutely needs” the unit to weather the crisis in 2023, which has been designated as a “much more complex year”.
Commissioner Giani said on Tuesday that the terminal will mean “lower energy bills for 60 million Italians” and “the ability to have gas more easily without being dependent on Russia”.
But unions, local citizens and even the mayor of Piombino said it would pose health and safety risks to locals and tourists traveling between the port city and the popular resort island of Elba.
And environmental associations have warned that the terminal, which will take LNG and convert it back to natural gas, will slow Italy’s transition to renewable energy.
Greenpeace Italy accused the project of being based on “incomplete assessments, superficial reviews and impracticable timelines”.
Simone Tagliapietra, assistant professor of energy, climate and environmental policy at Johns Hopkins University – SAIS Europe, told AFP that regasification units “have no particular environmental impact” and that it will not be “glamorous”.
He said the Piombino unit is not only “essential for Italy”, but also “a diversification that benefits all of Europe” energy source.
Giani said the terminal will stay in the port for three years and then move to another location.
Francesco Ferrari, mayor of Piombino, said he would appeal the decision.
Before the war in Ukraine, Italy imported 95 percent of the gas it consumed.
Forty percent of that came from Russia; That figure fell to 10 percent after Draghi took steps to increase gas from other producers while also accelerating the transition to renewable energy.
© 2022 AFP