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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.
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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Italy’s Lombardy region brings in traffic limits as smog levels soar

Milan and eight other provinces in the northern Italian region of Lombardy on Tuesday enforced temporary traffic limits and other measures to combat high levels of air pollution.

Italy's Lombardy region brings in traffic limits as smog levels soar

Anti-smog measures came into force in Milan, Monza, Como, Bergamo, Brescia, Mantua, Cremona, Lodi and Pavia on Tuesday morning, local media reported, as PM10 air pollution levels exceeded limits for a fourth day in a row.

The measures include a ban on driving higher emission vehicles, classified as up to euro 1 for petrol and euro 4 for diesel, between the hours of 7.30am and 7.30pm on weekdays in any town with more than 30,000 inhabitants.

Is Milan really the world’s third most polluted city?

There was a requirement to keep heating set below 19 degrees Celsius, and a ban on lighting open fires and using less efficient wood burning stoves, rated three stars or lower.

Agricultural businesses were meanwhile prohibited from spreading manure and fertiliser.

The same measures came into force on January 30th in six provinces when PM10 particle concentration again exceeded limits for more than four days in a row.

Unusually mild and dry weather conditions were blamed for worsening pollution in the area in recent days.

The Lombardy region was “activating temporary measures provided for by law” due to “weather conditions that determine the stagnation of pollutants on the ground,” regional councillor for the environment, Giorgio Maione, told Italian media on Monday.

The restrictions came into force amid controversy over media reports citing data from Swiss site IQAir showing the concentration of PM2.5 fine particles in the Milan’s air over the weekend was around 13.8 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit, making it the world’s third or fourth most polluted city.

Milan’s Mayor Giuseppe Sala on Monday dismissed the reports, saying the findings were “the usual impromptu analyses… from social media”.

REVEALED: The most polluted towns in Italy in 2024

Sala acknowledged that city authorities “have not performed miracles” when it comes to reducing pollution levels, but said his council was trying to take action.

A 2023 report from Italian environment watchdog Legambiente found that, of the ten worst cities for PM10 (coarse particulate) pollution, nine were in the Po Valley area of northern Italy, with Turin, Milan and Cremona topping the chart.