October 19, 2010 / 11:39 AM / 9 years ago

Medieval Italian town blows hot on wind power

TOCCO DA CASAURIA, Italy (Reuters) - Wind has never been a commodity in short supply for the medieval town of Tocco da Casauria in Italy’s central Apennine mountains.

Windmills are seen at an eolic farm in Tocco da Casauria, central Italy October 14, 2010. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Nestled between two of the country’s highest mountain ranges, the Maiella and Gran Sasso, Tocco da Casauria sits in a natural wind tunnel and residents have decided to make it work for them.

Now four wind turbines rise from the skyline next to the town which can trace its roots back to a Roman settlement and which has a medieval monastery that was once the most powerful in the rugged Abruzzo region.

Traditionally the 2,700 inhabitants of Tocco have farmed olives, wine and kept sheep but now they are looking to the future and turning their hand to renewable energy.

“Using renewable energy sources, we manage not only to preserve the environment but also to produce more energy than we need, therefore freeing up earnings and funds which become available for our administrative activities and services” said mayor Riziero Zaccagnini.

The turbines have been so successful that Tocco now makes money from electricity as it produces some 50 percent more than it needs. It has earned close to 170,000 euros ($236,000) per year by selling its electricity, money that the local town government ploughs back into the community.

A local school is being restructured to withstand seismic activity and residents no longer have to pay local taxes or payments on rubbish collection.

And the inhabitants have grown to love the turbines.

“The turbines make no noise, they have no negative impact on the environment,” said resident Franca Fonte.

“On the contrary, I think they are beautiful. When I turn to look at the mountains, which I often do because I love this village and the mountains that surround it, I always find the wind turbines beautiful,” she said.

The green initiative has proved so popular in the town that many residents are now also turning to the use of solar energy.

Italy has some of the highest electricity costs in Europe and as the price of wind turbines and solar panels falls, more and more smaller communities are looking to produce their own renewable energy.

On a larger scale, Italy consistently falls short of European Union emissions-reduction targets and is unlikely to meet its commitment to reach 17 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020.

But in Tocco da Casauria, even the local shepherd Antonio Logatto is in on the game, delivering his lambs in a shed with solar panels fitted to the roof.

“Initially I was very dubious about spending the money,” he said. “You know, for a tiny business like mine to spend 40,000 euros is quite something, so you need to be very careful about it.

“But one year after I put in these photovoltaic panels I am really happy. Actually I think it was the only fruitful investment I have managed to do in my life up to now.”

Editing by Steve Addison

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