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ENERGY

Lights off and home working: Milan’s new energy-saving plan for winter

Milan’s mayor has unveiled new measures to save energy including switching street lights off earlier and closing some government offices on Fridays.

Milan's iconic Duomo.
Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, has recently unveiled a new round of energy-saving measures for the winter. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

As the European energy crisis continues, many Italian cities are struggling to square their accounts and Milan, Italy’s second-largest metropolitan area, seems to be at the top of that unenviable list.

Last week, La Repubblica reported that energy bills for Palazzo Marino, the seat of the city’s authorities, would add up to a whopping 130 million euros, more than twice the amount spent last year (60 million).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

After weeks of back-to-back talks with union leaders and academic experts, Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala unveiled the city’s new energy-saving plan on Wednesday.

The new measures, which are estimated to save the northern city up to 1.5 million euros, were announced just days after Italy’s outgoing government introduced tighter nationwide restrictions on gas heating.

So what are the key points of Milan’s latest plan to fight the so-called caro energia (soaring energy bills)?

Firstly, the city’s street lights will be on for one hour less each night, with lampposts across the metropolitan area switching off at an earlier time in the morning. 

READ ALSO: Climate zones: When can you turn your heating on Italy this winter?  

Private businesses and shops will also be asked to keep their signs and window lights off outside of opening hours. 

Sala’s plan is also set to affect public transport: the comune has already instructed city transport company ATM to reduce temperatures by two degrees on electric buses and trams. 

Tram in Milan's city centre.

Milan’s public transport operator ATM will be asked to reduce temperatures inside electric buses and trams by two degrees. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Finally – and this is perhaps the most interesting point in Milan’s new energy programme – a number of government buildings will remain shut on Fridays, with around 2,000 employees being asked to work from home or, should that not be possible, work from nearby offices. 

Though the above measure hasn’t been made official yet, it should apply to the following five buildings:

    • The seat of municipal accountancy in Via Silvio Pellico
    • Construction, traffic and social assistance offices in Via Sile
    • IT offices in Via Gian Battista Vico
    • HR offices in Via Bergognone
    • Education offices in Via Durando

After doubts were raised this week as to how the planned Friday closures would affect the public, Sala reassured residents that the measure will only affect offices open to the public “in a very limited way”. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: Italy risks ‘thousands’ of business closures, say industry groups

That said, a number of private companies, including banking group Intesa San Paolo, are reportedly considering the introduction of remote working provisions akin to Sala’s – something which might significantly change Milan’s occupational landscape in the coming months.

Sala’s plan is also expected to encompass a number of other measures, including a campaign advising residents on how to save energy starting on October 18th.

Christmas lights in Milan.

A number of Italian municipalities have already told residents that Christmas decorations will be downsized this year. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

It is currently unclear whether other Italian cities will follow Milan’s example and bring in similar energy-saving arrangements. 

Many comuni across Italy have already told residents that Christmas lights and decorations will be downsized this year. 

Florence’s local authorities are considering replacing the city’s usual ‘light festival’ with alternative decorations powered by renewable energy, whereas Venice will remove Christmas lights in early January as opposed to early March.

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ENERGY

Which households in Italy will benefit from falling gas prices?

Gas prices are returning to lower levels but which Italian households will see the benefits on their utility bill? Here’s what you need to know.

Which households in Italy will benefit from falling gas prices?

Italy’s energy regulator Arera announced on Thursday that gas bills had dropped by an average 34 percent in January, marking a change in trend after increases recorded in December and November.

Arera said the fall in prices was largely driven by lower wholesale gas prices, but was also aided by “lower supply costs” and the government’s three-month suspension of gas-related standing charges.

But not everyone in the country will feel the effects of the price change.

The decrease reported by Arera will benefit customers on a ‘protected’ or maggior tutela contract, where rates are directly determined by Arera as opposed to private suppliers – this applies to approximately 41.5 percent of Italian households.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When can you turn your heating on in Italy this winter?

For customers with private suppliers, who are instead on mercato libero (free market) contracts, any change in price will depend on the contract itself, particularly on whether it’s based on a fixed or variable rate.

Gas prices within the mercato libero (or ‘free market’) are determined by private companies, so variations in Arera’s tariffs do not directly affect these contracts.

Gas stove

Variations in Arera’s gas tariffs do not directly affect free market clients. Photo by Ida Marie ODGAARD / Ritzau SCANPIX / AFP

Some ‘hybrid’ contracts from private suppliers index their gas prices to Arera’s rates, and customers with this type of contract are likely to see a reduction in fees.

That said, the European market registered comparatively low gas prices in January – gas cost an average of 0.74 euros per cubic metre last month, down from the average 1.25 recorded in December. This may very well result in lower gas bills for free market customers in Italy.

But overall, despite January’s decrease, gas tariffs remain much higher than they were before the start of the energy crisis.

READ ALSO: Heating homes: What are Italy’s rules on using fires and wood-burners?

The average Italian household on a contratto tutelato will still spend 1,769 euros on gas bills alone in the next 12 months (from February 2022 to January 2023) – a whopping 36-percent increase against the same period of time last year.

National consumer group UNC warned against the optimism expressed by several government figures on Thursday, saying while “families may now take a breather”, bills are still “unsustainable for too many Italians”. 

UNC also urged the government to extend the three-month suspension of standing charges for another three months when it expires at the end of March.

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