Territorial planning and local energy transitions in Italy: missing links and future prospects



Renewable Energy Communities, intergenerational equity, spatial planning, climate change adaptation, Energy Transition




Faced with far-reaching challenges that call into question their ability to cope with both long-term shifts (climate change) and short-term shocks (financial crises, Covid-19 pandemics, regional conflicts), contemporary societies are placing increasing expectations on planning (Recklen, 2021). In the European Union (EU), this trend is leading to an increasing number of strategies being required at national level - national energy and climate plans, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans, and national recovery and resilience plans are some of the most prominent examples.

This current wave of planning appears to consist mainly of a combination of high-level policy objectives, market-based instruments and public works, with greater variability found in research and innovation policies and support schemes for civil society organisations. However, as the political stakes become increasingly high, the calls to take into account sharp differences in territorial contexts, to address socio-spatial inequalities and to open up decision-making to the co-creation of policy, citizenship and knowledge - all these are becoming weaker (Porter, 2013). Moreover, these trends, fuelled by heavily proceduralised implementation models and highly polarised public discourses, are at odds with the most widely accepted principles and approaches to planning, especially at the local level.

Energy transition planning presents itself as an ideal field to address the resulting frictions, as it exposes the unequal burden on vulnerable groups (all the more so in the context of recurrent fuel price crises), and requires a critical view of policy orientation, as the pursuit of net-zero emissions should remain within local carrying capacity thresholds as safely as within planetary boundaries (Becker et al., 2017).

Using a mixed-methods research design, the present paper starts from a review of recent planning processes in Italy (with contrasting observations from other European countries) that may be relevant for local energy transitions. These include a wide variety of planning procedures and approaches, ranging from municipal spatial plans to Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAP), regional development programmes and landscape strategies.

The evidence is then critically discussed against the background of three idealtypical planning orientations, namely community energy sharing agreements, local action plans for energy cooperation and territorial strategies for energy transitions.

With regard to renewable energy community-building processes, the most interesting observations concern the social and institutional networks involved, whose relationships with dominant energy system actors have gradually shifted from antagonism to assimilation (Magnani & Cittati, 2021). As for energy transition planning, while some practices seem to contribute to mainstreaming climate change mitigation and adaptation into planning culture and practices at the local level, no self-sustaining policy field has yet coalesced around them and integration with other planning strands is lagging (Pietrapertosa et al., 2019). Despite persistent rhetoric on intergenerational equity, concluding remarks suggest that youth are largely marginalised in public policies for energy transitions, while powerful lock-in mechanisms (Kitkou et al., 2015) appear to be responsible for conflicting trajectories in climate change adaptation.


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