Like giant sentinels, dozens of wind turbines straddle the
mountain ridges near Sicily’s infamous Mafia stronghold of
However, despite a strong breeze rippling the leaves in groves
of olive and fig trees, the soaring blades of the turbines
have stood motionless for over a year. Further west, near
the port of Trapani and the ancient hill-top town of Salemi,
two more wind farms are similarly frozen.
Just who approved, built and sold these renewable energy
projects, which were developed on the basis of public subsidies,
has become the subject of investigation for Sicily’s anti-Mafia
magistrates, who are trying to keep track of organised crime’s
latest move into mainstream business.
Multinationals are starting to find out something that is
well known to Italian investors - that concealed beneath Europe’s
most generous system of incentives, there exists a web of
corruption and shady deals.
Rossana Interlandi, recently appointed head of Sicily’s environment
department, explains that project developers - she calls them
“speculators” - were also lured by the appeal of a law that
obliges Italy’s national grid operator to pay wind farm owners
even when they are not producing electricity.
Some wind farms are not supplying power because operators
are waiting to be connected to the grid and for an upgrade
of the cable linking Sicily to the mainland.
Despite a profusion of projects across southern Italy, the
country ranks low in terms of wind power output. The International
Energy Agency says wind power in Italy generated just 1.2
per cent of electricity in 2007, compared with nearly 20 per
cent in Denmark.
Interlandi puts the number of wind farms in Sicily at 30
(although industrialists say the figure is higher) producing
a total of 600MW. Sixty more wind farms have approval for
a further 1,800MW, while 226 projects have requested approval
that she says will not be granted. “Enough” she exclaims.
“Many speculators made money on the backs of the government.”
There is also a growing movement of citizens and local mayors
who oppose what they see as despoliation of Sicily’s scenery.
In fact, the freeze on new projects was put in place under
the previous administration of Salvatore Cuffaro. Just two
months earlier, Cuffaro had been convicted by a court in Palermo
for helping the Mafia in a case involving the public health
sector. He was given a five-year jail sentence. Cuffaro, now
a senator, has appealed and his case will be heard this month.
The immediate impact of the freeze was to raise the value
of those projects already approved. Asked who had managed
to obtain the much sought-after permits, Interlandi points
to Vito Nicastri - a Sicilian developer otherwise known as
'lord of the winds' - as the most successful.
Nicastri is to be found at work at his Eoli Costruzioni headquarters
next to the cemetery on the edge of Alcamo, a picturesque
hill town founded by Arab conquerors in the ninth century.
Over coffee, Nicastri confirms that he has developed the “majority”
of Sicily’s wind farms - arranging land, financing and official
permits. He then sold the projects for construction to IVPC,
a company run by Oreste Vigorito, who is also president of
Italy’s wind power association.
Nicastri says he has worked on projects resulting in construction
of wind farms for International Power (IP) of the UK, Falck
Renewables, the London subsidiary of Falck Group based in
Milan, IVPC and Veronagest, an Italian firm.
Nicastri is mentioned but not charged in a 530-page court
document that resulted in the arrests in February of eight
people - local officials, businessmen and an alleged Mafia
boss - all accused of corruption in a wind farm project.
Investigators tapping the telephone of a local official intercepted
calls to Nicastri. Nicastri acknowledges the investigation
and that he may be investigated again, but denies any wrongdoing.
“We are a healthy company with 100 employees” - he says.
IP became the single largest wind farmer in Italy with its
2007 purchase of the Maestrale portfolio of mostly Italian
wind farms - including five in Sicily - for €1.8 billion from
Trinergy, an Irish company. IP said it was aware of investigations
in Sicily, adding - “But we are not aware that current investigations
by the anti-Mafia prosecutor are, to any extent, connected
to our wind farm projects.”
IP said it knew Nicastri was the project developer, but it
had no direct relationship with him. For Nicastri and other
Sicilian developers, wind power is now passé as the
market is virtually saturated. The future, they say, is solar.
However, the regional government under Raffaele Lombardo
is now promoting micro-projects for Sicily’s five million
people, so that households and companies can generate their
own wind and solar power. Part of the logic of the strategy
is to minimise involvement of the Mafia.
Source - The Irish Times
(Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009)