Protecting biodiversity from the continuous deterioration of natural habitats and threats to certain species is one of the main issues considered by the European Union in its environmental policy which attempts to ensure biodiversity through the conservation of natural and semi-natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna within the territory of member states.
To this end, a network of special protected areas was established at European level under the Directive “Natura 2000”, involving various Italian regions and areas. The network also includes certain environments transformed by man over time which represent important areas for the survival of numerous species of plants and animals. The protection of Natura 2000 sites is mandatory (Italian Presidential Decree 357/97 “Regulation implementing Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats, and of wild flora and fauna” and Italian Presidential Decree 120/2003).
The law states that the territorial planning and scheduling must take into account the naturalistic and environmental importance of the Sites of Community Importance (SCI) and the Special Protection Areas (SPA) and that any plan or project, internal or external to the sites, which could in any way affect the conservation of habitats or species that have been identified as protected should be subjected to an appropriate impact assessment for the affected sites. Prior to the implementation stage of new measures, the development of new networks and significant maintenance activities (revamping/repowering), which may lead to environmental impacts for the “Natura 2000” protected areas, they must be submitted for prior assessment in order to protect the areas. It is also necessary to verify that machinery, plants and equipment subject to the measures possess the environmental requirements necessary and to assess the potential impacts resulting from the use of hazardous substances and the adoption of appropriate management measures. In particular, the Impact Assessment (Italian Presidential Decree 357/1997 in Art. 5) is the procedure implemented in cases where an intervention may significantly affect an SCI or an SPA in the “Natura 2000” network. The Italian Ministry of the Environment and the Protection of the Land and Sea publishes decrees which list the Italian SCIs.
The construction and management of plants, activities and projects must be carried out under the provisions of Italian law and environmental regulations (Italian Legislative Decree 152/2006), which provide for the integration of environmental aspects into the development of plans and programmes and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), to identify and assess in advance the environmental effects of specific public or private projects – in their start-up phase or the case of significant changes to existing projects – and to identify measures to prevent, eliminate or minimise adverse impacts on the environment, before they occur, analysing the impact in terms of atmospheric emissions, water withdrawals and discharges, waste, noise, odours.
In 2020, Iren Group formalised, in its Biodiversity Policy, its commitment to the conservation of biodiversity in the areas in which it operates, which is based on the adoption of an effective management model, consistent with the National Strategy for Biodiversity, with European strategic objectives (European Green Deal and EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030) and with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The principles on which the Group’s Policy is based are:
- conservation of the biodiversity of ecosystems, in particular for the activities carried out in vulnerable or protected natural areas;
- monitoring and mitigation of the impacts of the activities on biodiversity;
- promotion of environmental improvement through actions aimed at protecting areas of high ecological value and disseminating a culture of biodiversity;
- raising awareness and knowledge about biodiversity, its protection and conservation, encouraging best practice and passing it on internally and externally;
- collaboration with local associations and communities in actions and projects designed to increase stakeholders’ awareness of the importance of protecting biodiversity.
Activities in protected areas or areas of environmental interest
The Group’s activities, by their very nature, have a direct or indirect impact on the air, water resources, soil, ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. This is why Iren, aware that the preservation of the natural ecosystem is essential for long-term global sustainability, promotes the sustainable development of its activities.
The Group’s electricity generation activities in protected areas mainly concern hydroelectric plants and their impact on water resources and in terms of acoustic emissions. Water withdrawals and releases are managed in accordance with the concessions issued by the Competent Authorities and the legislation in force. Management Plans have been prepared for all the reservoirs managed (pursuant to Italian Ministerial Decree 152) with the relevant impact studies for those affecting SCI areas. The main water sources involved in water withdrawals at the Group’s production plants are the Ligurian Sea, the Po river, the Naviglio Grande canal and withdrawals from groundwater through wells for industrial use. The complete framework of withdrawn water (dams and weirs) for the production of hydroelectric energy concerns the Orco, Dora Riparia, Po, Maira, Brugneto, Secchia, Bussento, Tanagro, Tusciano, Calore, Picentino and Terza rivers.
Water discharges flow into the Ligurian sea, the basin of the Po, Ticino, Dora Riparia and Secchia rivers, lake Pian Telessio in Piedmont, the Chisola and Piantonetto streams, and the Naviglio Grande canal in Lombardy. All discharges, authorised and in compliance with the law, are made up of cooling water from the plants or water from the treatment processes of the water used in production sites. The measures to improve efficiency of hydroelectric plants, carried out by the Group in the past, had positive repercussions on the entire system, as they reduce the need to produce energy from fossil sources and help to reduce atmospheric emissions. For all the redevelopment work carried out, the plant IAFR certification (certifying that it is powered by renewable sources) was obtained, which identifies the environmental benefits expected in terms of reductions in SO2, CO2, NOx, particulate and natural gas emissions.
In relation to the acoustic impact, all plants are soundproofed appropriately to minimise the impact on the surrounding area.
The development of the electricity distribution network in the city of Turin may directly involve or be in the immediate vicinity of various areas of the “Nature 2000” network, including: Collina di Superga (SCI), Meisino (SPA), Stupinigi (SCI), Lama del Badiotto (SPA) and Garzaia della Brarola (SPA). The electricity distribution network of Parma does not affect SCIs or SPAs in the “Natura 2000” network.
Waste management and environmental health activities that the Group carries out do not affect protected areas in the Emilia area. Plants with greater capacity (waste-to-energy plants and landfills) are equipped with a green system, in harmony with the vegetation climax in which they are situated, with visual and environmental mitigation functions. Every year, the impacts related to the activities carried out at the sites are examined with the aim of verifying the results of the measures carried out and having available all the elements necessary to confirm/modify the implemented system, so as to assess compliance with the regulations and authorisations required by environmental legislation and to verify the state of progress and define/update improvement plans for management systems, including those related to environmental performance.
The Parma Integrated Environmental Centre (PAI) operates in a largely industrial area and has a “green system” that, in addition to complying with the mitigation of particulates, also restores some habitats and acts as an ecological bridge between different biotopes that will lead to the creation of a surface ecosystem that could be an important resource for the overall recovery of the landscape and ecological value of the area. Every year, a monitoring campaign is carried out on the content of the particulates collected from the plants based at the PAI, in order to estimate the environmental benefits in terms of the atmospheric particulate matter removed.
The area of the Piacenza waste-to-energy plant is not subject to any urban, landscape, hydro-geological, seismic or territorial restrictions and there are no protected parks, oases or other areas protected by law.
The Turin waste-to-energy plant (TRM) obtained a positive environmental compatibility assessment via a process that included an Environmental Impact Study, the conclusions of which, in terms of vegetation, flora, fauna and ecosystems, demonstrated that the site is located within a highly developed area where no specific natural value has been detected in regard to vegetation and wildlife. Despite being in the middle of an EIA phase, the introduction of the plant does not indicate the appearance of significant symptoms of stress on the ecosystems that already suffer from human impact; the emissions do not cause any harm to the local fauna present across a vast area, including the areas of particular naturalistic interest represented by the Stupinigi Natural Park and the system of protected areas of the Po river belt.
The activities related to the gas distribution service do not have any particular impact on biodiversity. Infrastructure development, maintenance and management activities rigorously comply with the regulatory framework relevant to environmental impact. Annual walking inspections are carried out within the natural areas where plants are present and at the end of the winter season to not damage the vegetation.
Regarding the integrated water service, all the water bodies receiving wastewater treated by the Group in the Emilia and Piedmont regions are located in the basin of the Po river. The land lies within an area declared as sensitive so the plants, depending on their size, are subject to the application of the strictest nitrogen and phosphorus limits. The wastewater treated by the treatment plants situated in the Liguria area is drained into the Ligurian Sea from the coast (mainly the Gulf of Genoa, the Gulf of Tigullio and the Gulf of La Spezia). By nature, the activities conducted are aimed at maintaining optimal environmental conditions. Specifically, protecting the areas in which sources of water withdrawal are found is of the utmost importance for the management of the integrated water service. Likewise, the main objective of the treatment activity is to ensure that discharges are appropriately treated so that they are compatible with the natural habitats of the receiving bodies of water. Screenings and environmental impact assessments are carried out within the timeframe required by current regulations, both for water treatment plants and water withdrawals.
In 2020, activities to restore the full purification structure of the Sturla plant in the Liguria area, which was damaged by the 2018 storm surge, were completed. In addition, the new Rapallo water treatment plant was activated. Both activities contributed to the improvement of environmental conditions near the discharge points.
The Genoese plants of the Brugneto Dam lie within Antola Regional Park (Genoa), while the Gorzente lakes lie within the Regional Park of Capanne di Marcarolo, partly within the Province of Alessandria. In the Province of Piacenza, the Group owns a lowland forest within the protected area of Conoide del Nure and Bosco di Fornace Vecchia (SCI). The treatment plants managed in the province of La Spezia are located near the Cinque Terre National Park/Cinque Terre Marine Protected Area, the Porto Venere Regional Nature Park, the Regional Nature Park of Montemarcello-Magra-Vara and the Regional Islands of Portovenere Marine Protection area.
No natural habitats were offset during the reporting period.
Main areas and species protected
Iren Group constantly collaborates with the management bodies of the protected areas in which it works to safeguard the ecosystem and protected species.
It also undertakes to increasingly extend the mapping and location of plants and networks to identify the potential interference they generate with the protected areas they are located or in their vicinity.
The map shows the main Sites of Community Importance and Special Protection Areas where plants and/or networks managed by Iren Group are located. There are approximately 305 protected species listed on the national and international IUCN Red Lists (of those cited in the documentation available online). Approximately 25% of these species are among the following IUCN List categories: regional extinction (RE), vulnerable (VU), endangered (EN), critical risk (CR) and nearly threatened (NT).
Compliance with environmental laws and regulations and reporting mechanisms
Iren Group adopts an Environmental Management System that complies with the ISO 14001 standard: all employees are required, as part of their duties, to participate in the process of risk prevention, protection of the environment and of their own health and safety, and that of their colleagues and third parties.
All processes are carried out in full compliance with applicable environmental legislations, and the Group contributes to the research and development of advanced technologies aimed at protecting the resources and at reducing the environmental impact and their related risks. Furthermore, the activities of Iren Group are managed in compliance with the regulations relevant to the prevention and protection from accidents and occupational health and safety.
There are many instruments at the disposal of the stakeholders to report an environmental breach: these methods include written communications via post, e-mail, fax and social media channels. All communications are considered and sent to the competent offices, which carry out to the appropriate checks, and, lastly, each stakeholder receives a response in relations to their reports.
During the qualification process, suppliers are required to hold an environmental certificate or, in any case, to have taken on substantial elements interlinked with the environmental system (see page 120 of the “Sustainability Report”).
The production and distribution of electricity services are certified by standards of quality and environmental management, and are, therefore, subject to internal and external audits with regard to the processes and obligations relevant to environmental legislation. Also, in order to ensure a path of sustainable corporate growth based on the principle of continuous improvement, resources are committed to the development of energy production from renewable sources (hydroelectric, solar and biomass), sources similar to renewables (waste) and high-efficiency resources (co-generation) and the promotion of district heating, as well as the adoption of the best plant technologies available on the market, to ensure a lower environmental impact.
With regard to the environmental services, residents and public authorities have access to an environmental contact centre where it is possible to report any breaches and/or critical situations pertinent to the environment. Moreover, “Environmental Inspectors” operate in the Provinces of Piacenza, Parma and Reggio Emilia, who patrol the areas of competence in order to identify illegal landfills and abandoned waste, including those hazardous to the environment. Once a report is received, the environmental inspectors organise the verification activities and the necessary treatment for the resolution of the problems identified, pursuant to the proper procedures. In addition to this type of reporting, the inspectors also provide information to residents about correct waste separating methods and the use of the collection service. Furthermore, specific procedures provide guidelines for operators concerning the processes to be implemented for the solution and/or limitation of any environmental emergencies that may arise during the performance of services.
In relation to waste-to-energy plants, emission data are released to the supervisory authorities in real time. These figures are public and can be viewed daily on the websites. To ensure IEA provisions on communication anomalies are adhered to, a 24-hour technician service has been established.
In the integrated water service, the entire cycle is subjected to constant monitoring of operating parameters, also through remote control systems of the plants, providing for the execution of tens of thousands of laboratory analytical determinations and the continuous improvement of the use of water resources, both in terms of withdrawal and use, and of release and discharge. In addition, urban wastewater treatment plants are being renovated by researching the best available technologies to improve effluent water quality and minimise emissions. The water service is also subject to controls pursuant to the law by local regulatory authorities. The optimisation of the corrective measures put in place to minimise possible negative effects of problems identified, is often carried out through the involvement of other bodies, including through specific operational protocols.
In 2020, the Group received and paid 51 fines and penalties, for a total value of around 150,358 Euro, for non-compliance with environmental laws and regulations (Italian Legislative Decree 152/2006) and municipal regulations or rules of the road code in the management of construction sites. Breaches mainly related to the absence of discharge permits at certain wastewater treatment plants, the exceeding of limits set out in the tables for wastewater discharge, and non-compliance with permits or delays in the execution of certain works.