The Tirreno Power coal-burning power station in Vado Ligure, near Savona, has been shut down by police at the request of the Public Prosecutor. This comes as a result of a three-year investigation by the Public Prosecutor into the plant’s effects on the environment and public health. The results of the investigation are very clear: the deaths of at least 400 people between 2000 and 2007 were linked to air pollution caused by the power station’s activity; between 1,700 and 2,000 local people were hospitalised for respiratory and heart diseases; and 450 children received medical care for asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases.
As part of the privatisation of the Italian electricity market in 2003, the power plant was bought by Tirreno Power. Tirreno Power’s majority shareholder is the Sorgenia Group, led by Carlo De Benedetti who also owns La Repubblica, one of Italy’s main newspapers, and who prides himself on having the first membership card issued by the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party, which controls the Liguria regional government, has always minimised the public health and environmental dangers of the power station.
Local committees’ efforts to discover the truth about the plant and its impact on health and the environment, together with their pressure on the magistrature, have been key in leading to the switch off. What’s more, it seems likely that Tirreno Power’s plans to enlarge the plant with new coal-burning furnaces, a project that the people of Vado Ligure have protested against for years, will be forgotten.
The seizure order describes the company’s conduct as “negligent” with regard to its continual exceeding of emission limits fixed by the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). It states that the plant will be reopened only if “the company, whose intentions have not so far been followed by practical action, provides better technologies to reduce pollution and monitor the chimneys’ activity”.
Today the Sorgenia group controls 39% of the power station and 50% belongs to the French company Suez. It languishes in deep financial trouble, with debts of 1.9bn euros. The newspaper Corriere della Sera, a rival to La Repubblica has reported pressure from De Benedetti on the Renzi government to appoint a “friendly” economic development minister who could allocate public funds to save Sorgenia. One of the possibilities, reported by Corriere journalists Fabrizio Massaro and Sergio Rizzo, is that the creditor banks transform their credits into stocks, thus becoming owners (and so De Benedetti would not have to meet the debt) and maybe also receiving a “little help” from the State. The first creditor bank, they point out, is Monte dei Paschi di Siena, owned by a foundation close to the Democratic Party.
Carlo De Benedetti, together with the former Minister Corrado Passera, is also currently under investigation for asbestos-related deaths in the Olivetti plant in Ivrea, near Turin. The charges include manslaughter and unintentional damage to health.