Italy FIT farce could spill into next week

pv magazine was told that the atmosphere at the trade show is that of uncertainty while, in comparison to last year, the halls seem all but empty. It seems that the to-ing and fro-ing that has been going on over Italy’s new solar incentives is really taking its toll.

According to Reuters, the final draft solar regulation will only be presented to the cabinet tomorrow, meaning there is still no certainty over when it will finally be signed.

Having started back in February when it was announced that the country may introduce an eight gigawatt cumulative cap on its photovoltaic market, the affair has turned farcical, with key decisions being delayed almost every week and Ministers bickering over the Conto Energia’s finer points.

Analysts at Jefferies and Company, having announced that they saw the final draft regulation yesterday, which reportedly contains the final industry proposals, and which has, reportedly, been accepted by Italy’s Minister Romani, declared that the changes will be more positive than previously thought. Furthermore, they said that if the regulation is finalized today, the Italian solar market will "immediately" pick up.

Lowered caps and unclear proposals

However, they say that the cap for large systems in the second half of this year has been lowered to 1.2 GW, and €300 million, as opposed to the 1.35 GW and €447 million laid out in the previous draft regulation. Meanwhile, in 2012, it has been lowered to 1.49 GW and €280 million, instead of the 1.75 GW and €373 million.

Commenting, the Jefferies analysts say: "It appears the cap for large systems was lowered in exchange for grandfathered systems."

Another negative, they say, is the fact that the priority ranking system for large solar systems remains unclear. "In Italy," they state, "there are two authorizations; one for power plant permits, the other for grid connection. Projects without grid connection authorization appear to have the same priority as unpermitted projects regardless of size. This will hurt larger systems."

Until the fourth Conto Energia is signed, there are also are couple points which remain unknown. Firstly, the tariff for large systems appears to be unchanged. However, the analysts say that the euro cap amount was lowered further than the megawatt amount.

Secondly, the debate over when a solar plant should receive the tariff is still not clear. On the one hand, Italy’s Environmental Minister believes remuneration should start when construction has been completed. On the other, Minister Romani is in support of starting them only once a plant has been grid connected.

Overall, however, the regulations are expected to be far more positive than expected. For example, the fact that no cap has been placed on roof systems under one megawatt (MW) in size is seen as being a "significant" positive. Initially, the previous draft had defined small systems as under 200 kilowatts (kW) in size.

Likewise, it seems that no cap will be placed on ground-mounted solar systems under 200 kW. This is in comparison to the last draft regulation, which had suggested capping all ground-based systems regardless of size. "This provision," state the analysts, "is good for small farmers in the south." They continue: "Our prior research note indicated that ground-based systems may be uncapped up to one MW; we believe this provision was negotiated out of the draft given the allowance of grandfathered systems."

Furthermore, it has been said that no cap will be placed on existing permitted systems of all sizes, meaning they will qualify for incentives, without a cap, until August 31. "This is a strong positive given we believe this market alone may be >2GW in 2011," say the Jefferies analysts.

They go on to add that caps in the second half of the year for large systems will begin on June 1, while existing systems will be grandfathered through to August 31. "This means that in the summer there will be ground-based demand from <200kW systems, uncapped prior permitted large ground systems, and new large systems >200kW concurrently for June, July and August," they explain. "In other words, three incentive systems for ground based systems will overlap for three months."

In a final positive, the analysts say that there appears to be no change to the tariffs from the previous draft.

Now, it is simply a matter of watch and wait for Italy’s solar industry.