Proposal Would Ban Solar Panel Installation on Italy's Farmlands

Exemptions for agri-voltaic systems would still allow research and development of projects in olive groves to continue.
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 12, 2024 00:44 UTC

Proposed leg­is­la­tion in Italy would ban the instal­la­tion of pho­to­voltaic solar pan­els on agri­cul­tural land, carv­ing out exemp­tions for some agri-voltaic sys­tems.

The announce­ment came a week after Italy com­mit­ted to triple renew­able energy capac­ity by the end of the decade at a meet­ing of G7 energy min­is­ters.

We put an end to the wild instal­la­tion of ground-mounted pho­to­voltaic [pan­els],” Francesco Lollobrigida, Italy’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, told a news con­fer­ence after the mea­sures were approved.

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However, he added that agri-voltaic sys­tems in which solar pan­els are installed at a min­i­mum height of 2.1 meters above the ground would be exempted from the pro­hi­bi­tion.

There are very advan­ta­geous tax pro­vi­sions for agri­cul­tural entre­pre­neurs and agri­cul­tural land,” Lollobrigida said. However, if you want to deploy pho­to­voltaic pan­els on the ground, you are chang­ing their intended use, and there­fore, we do not believe that this type of prac­tice should con­tinue.”

Research pub­lished in April, which was co-authored by Italian aca­d­e­mics from the Sapienza University of Rome, mod­eled the most effi­cient way to install bifa­cial solar pan­els in super-high-den­sity olive groves with­out harm­ing yield or qual­ity.

They deter­mined that solar pan­els installed between three and 4.5 meters at an angle between 20 and 40 degrees would har­ness the max­i­mum pos­si­ble amount of solar energy while result­ing in only minor pro­duc­tiv­ity decreases.

The study built on pre­vi­ous the­o­ret­i­cal research in which sci­en­tists from Italy and Romania mod­eled how effec­tive dif­fer­ent olive grove-pho­to­voltaic lay­outs would be in south­ern Italy. They found each hectare could pro­duce up to 7.13 megawatts of power and include 900 Arbequina trees.

Despite the poten­tial syn­er­gies, Coldiretti, Italy’s most pow­er­ful farm­ers’ union, applauded the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion and said it would crack down on spec­u­la­tion by invest­ment funds, which has dri­ven up the cost of agri­cul­tural land in recent years.

We can­not accept the short­cut of pho­to­voltaics,” said Luigi Pio Scordamaglia, Coldiretti’s direc­tor of inter­na­tional poli­cies. We don’t want to accept the iner­tia of an admin­is­tra­tion that decided not to invest and improve irri­ga­tion. We want to real­ize the full pro­duc­tive poten­tial of that land again.”

Meanwhile, envi­ron­men­tal groups opposed the leg­is­la­tion, cit­ing it as incom­pat­i­ble with the country’s renew­able energy goals.

It is a seri­ous mis­take to slow down the devel­op­ment of pho­to­voltaics with ground-mounted mod­ules, which con­sti­tutes the most eco­nom­i­cal and effi­cient type of sys­tem,” the Italian Solar Association wrote in an open let­ter to the gov­ern­ment.

Italia Solare esti­mates that installing solar pan­els on just one per­cent of the country’s fal­low farm­land would allow Italy to meet its 2030 solar com­mit­ments. Of Italy’s 16 mil­lion hectares of des­ig­nated farm­land, about one-quar­ter is left fal­low due to envi­ron­men­tal and socioe­co­nomic fac­tors.

Before it is passed into law, the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion will be scru­ti­nized in both houses of par­lia­ment, which has the abil­ity to make changes.


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