Activists Begin Organizing Wind Cooperative in Southern Italy

By Paul Gipe

Raising Seed Capital Next Step 

On Sunday morning 29 September nearly 50 people attended a full-day workshop on how locally-owned wind energy could benefit them and their communities.

The workshop was not held in the comfortable setting of a hotel conference room or university lecture hall. Instead, organizers Patrizia Mastroleo and Francesco Paraggio chose a corner of a concrete-walled warehouse stacked high with empty olive crates. Participants sat on plastic lawn chairs.

The setting was deliberate. The warehouse was empty but soon would be alive with workers and forklifts unloading olives for processing into oil.

The warehouse and olive presses are part of a local cooperative owned by its 500 members, Oleificio sociale cooperativo Viterbo.

Organizers and many of those who attended the workshop want to do the same with wind energy. They want to install wind turbines and own them locally.

To many outside Italy, the country is not known as a hotbed of community ownership as are Denmark and Germany. Nevertheless, Italy has long history of developing cooperatives. Many of Italy’s most famous agricultural products are created cooperatively.

Disclosure: Paul Gipe was hired by the Agenzia Regionale per la Technologia e L’Innovazione (Arti) to give the workshop on Community Wind Energy in Castellana Grotte.

Italy a Renewable Energy Leader

Despite frequent political turmoil, the development of renewable energy has continued steadily and at a dramatic pace.

Italy is one of the world’s leaders in developing renewable sources of energy. It began developing its geothermal resources in the 1920s, and its geothermal capacity in 2010 ranked fifth in the world. In 2012, Italy generated 5 TWh of electricity with its geothermal resources, producing nearly  2% of its consumption.

Wind energy too has grown rapidly for the past decade, reaching 8,100 MW in 2012, comparable to the 8,500 MW of wind in Great Britain, and the 7,500 MW in France. In 2012, the country’s wind turbines generated more than 13 TWh, meeting 4% of Italy’s demand.

Solar photovoltaics (solar PV) has grown the most dramatically, rising from less than 100 MW in 2007 to an incredible 18,000 MW mid-year. Solar PV generated more than 18 TWh in 2012 because of Italy’s famous sunny climate. Today, solar PV provides nearly 6% of Italian consumption.

New renewables accounted for 15% of Italian consumption in 2012, and total renewables reached nearly 30% of total Italian demand—one of the highest percentages of renewable energy in an industrial country worldwide.

Community Organizers Determined to Raise Seed Capital

Though it has one of the world’s largest concentrations of wind turbines, very little of this capacity is owned by Italians or their local communities. However, there is a visionary group of Italians from Puglia–the heel of the Italian boot—that are determined to change all that.

Facing many of the same obstacles as their counterparts in Canada and the United States, these activists are determined that their friends, neighbors, and communities will be able to invest in, own, and profit from the wind turbines that are a key part of Italy’s renewable energy revolution. They are not daunted by the “it can’t be done here” excuse so common to those who are willing to accept the status quo. They simply point to all the other cooperatives successfully operating in Italy whether it be for pressing olive oil, fermenting cheese, or making wine. “They did it,” these activists say. “We can too.”

The next step, say Paraggio and Mastroleo, is to raise seed capital to begin exploring the legal and corporate steps necessary to form a wind cooperative near Castellana Grotte, the site of the workshop.

The village of Castellana Grotte is in the heart of La Murgia, the heart of Italy’s “bread basket,” famous for its cheese (Caciocavallo), olive oil, and wine (Primitivo).

Paraggio and Mastroleo hope to make the region equally well known for the birth of a community wind revolution in Italy.