Why are renewables stopped? The case of the mini hydroelectric plant in Colle di Val d’Elsa

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Miris (Siletech

The triple crisis we are going through – climate, energy and economic – is rooted in a model of “development” anchored in fossil fuels, such as gas that is driving up bills. In this perspective, the solution is rather simple to identify, it goes from renewable sources: they are cheaper than fossils, they should not be imported and do not add climate-altering gases to the atmosphere.

Yet the industrial plants needed to produce energy from renewables – such as hydroelectric, solar or geothermal – are not being built; while the EU pushes to identify them as “plants of prevailing public interest” and sets targets for 2030 that in Italy translate into installing +10 G l’

How come? The recurring motivations range from the complexity of the authorization process to excessive bureaucracy, from Nimb sindr syndromes (not in my yard) to Nimto (not in my electoral mandate), which feed each other due to a misleading communication on so-called “environmental issues”.

For non-professionals it can be simple to minimize: it is difficult to think that an epochal process such as the ecological transition – in words welcome to all – can be stopped by some too much paperwork. Only by touching the individual cases, however, is it possible to appreciate the complexity of the problem.

Let’s take a case school, which can not be accused of calling into question predatory multinationals or gigantic plants: a mini hydroelectric project, designed for the territory of Colle di Val d’Elsa (SI) and proposed by a small local reality, the Siletech Let’s fasten our belts.

In Colle there is already a mini hydroelectric power plant, the Mak 2 from 151 KW The plant was instead awarded to what is now the (totally public) subsidiary Intesa spa, which in turn brought it back to the market in 2018 through a public tender won by Siletech

The Mak 2 already has a concession, until 2050, the withdrawal of water from the Elsa river to produce renewable electricity: we are talking about an average flow rate of 1,200 l/s, supplemented by 200 l/s drained by the so-called Gore, a system of artificial channels characterized by numerous jumps, once used by about thirty factories to produce motive energy.

Today, however, the Mak 2 can not produce when it should (or could): over the years the Municipality of Colle has been increasingly urbanizing, making it unsafe to put in place the old design of the plant given that the territory today would struggle to manage flood events or water bombs, made more and more likely by the advance of the climate crisis. What to do?

SiletechTech, through its subsidiary Progetto valorizzazione gore di Colle di Val d’Elsa srl (Pvg in short), presented a project to create a new pipeline, which mainly runs adjacent to the route of the right branch of the Gore fed by the Elsa river, with a triple purpose: to secure the urban section of the Gore, to make the most of the potential of the existing Mak 2 power plant giving a sense to the same project that has been in public hands for years and to create a second mini hydroelectric power plant upstream of the nominal power of 399 k che of water to date unnecessarily dissipated along the path of the Gore.

This second project, worth about 2 million euros, passed the Environmental Impact Assessment (Eia) verification in 2019 and obtained the Single Energy Authorization (Au) from the Tuscany Region in 2021. The Operator of Energy services (Gse) has also come to certify the goodness of the project, placing it fourth in the ranking (out of 63 plants at national level) in the ranking of the call issued in September 2021 to distribute the incentives to renewable sources provided for by Decree Fer 1.

Yet everything is still firm: the Municipality has opposed it by appealing against the Region, asking that the authorization be canceled.

“We have met several times with the Municipality, carte in hand, to evaluate together the issues that are raised– explains Luca Miris, legal representative of the Pvg – but unfortunately to date, despite our availability, it has not been possible to reach any type of agreement”.

What are the main issues that are raised for opposition to the project?

“There are basically three. The first concerns the monumental protection of the Gore, an aspect addressed both during the verification of subjectability to the Eia and by the Single Authorization, now passed with the numerous requirements imposed by the Tuscany Region to obtain the green light for the project. The second concerns the impact of the construction site, given that our plant would be born in the inhabited center: it is true, realizing it would involve moments with closed roads or alternating unique directions, but nothing different from what happens during the periodic resurfacing for interventions on other underground infrastructures, the remaking of sewage drains or any other urban subservice. Finally, there is concern that too much water can be taken from the river, but the new project did not ask for a liter more water than the old Mak 2 concession”.

What, then, would change by realizing the new conduct envisaged by the project?

“The new pipeline serves to bassare pass the problems that have arisen along the artificial channels of the Gore, which prevent the full operation of the Mak 2 power plant, but bassare pass does not mean leaving that stretch of the Gore dry. The decorum would also be maintained on the canals not used for the operation of the power plant: the water would continue to transit, regulated and controlled, but allowing total interruption during extreme weather events and thus protecting the territory from the risk of flooding”.

Would there therefore be no kind of variation in water withdrawals from the Elsa, compared to what is already foreseen by the Mak 2 concession?

“Not in the quantities, but in the modalities yes. That concession originally provided for a flat mode, that is, the possibility of employing 1,200 l/s + 200 l/s at every hour, day and month of the year. But of course for the river it is not indifferent to draw the same amount of water in summer as in winter. For this reason we have adjusted in advance by complying with what the EU Water Directive would have foreseen from 2029, modulating the withdrawals according to water availability: in the winter months we would withdraw a maximum of 1,500 l/s while in July-August we would stop at 580 l/s, still maintaining an annual average of 1,200 l/s”.

Let’s assume the case of a particularly dry summer, like this year’s: what impact would it have on the river to realize your plant?

“Just this summer we carried out tests together with the Municipality, since there was distrust. Visually, on the flow rate of the river nothing has changed. In any case, the project is obliged to constantly release the minimum vital outflow: if the flow of the river does not allow it, we would not produce electricity”.

What would be the landscape impact related to the construction of the new Pvg mini hydroelectric power plant from 399 KW, upstream of the Mak 2?

“The actual plant would be underground, so you would notice practically nothing, while the central building would be located in an industrial area of the old ironworks of Colle: we talk about a property of about 100 square meters. Realizing it would mean being able to produce 3 Gh H of electricity every year from a renewable source such as hydroelectric, to which a further production of 1 Gh H from the existing Mak 2 plant would be added: a total of 4 GW H per year, equal to the needs of about 1,600 families, which would allow avoiding the use of 1 million cubic meters of gas”.

What would you do with renewable energy?

“The project was born with the hypothesis of ceding it to the national grid, but this year due to the ongoing energy crisis and the consequent increases in bills we were contacted by the largest company present in Colle, Rcr cristalleria, known in the area as Calp. It is an industry by its nature energy-intensive and therefore put particularly to the test by the dear bills, which employs 300 direct employees and as many in the induced, for the large part local residents. He proposed to us the hypothesis of stipulating a PPA (Po pur purchase agreement, or long-term contracts for the purchase of renewable energy, ed.) to buy all the renewable electricity that we would be able to produce: for them it would mean covering about 10% of the needs, guaranteeing energy at a calm price and decarbonizing their production process. In this way all the benefits related to the presence of the plant would fall directly on the territory that hosts it”.

Is the interest of glassware still present, despite the delays in the implementation of the project?

“Of course, but at the moment the game is no longer in our hands; we are waiting for the results of the litigation initiated by the Municipality against the Region. But I am convinced that, if we made a constructive confrontation with the Council and with the whole City Council, we would be able to find a sustainable solution for everyone more quickly. After all, every time we are in the area for visits and technical surveys it happens that citizens stop and ask us for information: we promptly provide them and immediately any doubt is swept away, indeed people show enthusiasm and ask us to go ahead to produce clean and renewable energy for the benefit of the territory, both from an environmental and economic point of view”.

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