Stefano Salvadeo on how to reduce utility bills in Italy
Energy costs are a major concern for businesses in Italy: close to two in five business leaders expect rising energy costs to hinder growth over the next 12 months (38%) according to our Q1 International Business Report (IBR) results. This is above the global (35%) and EU (31%) averages and reflects the higher price of energy in Italy compared with the rest of Europe.
Over the years local lawmakers have passed regulations aimed at easing the tax burden for energy-intensive companies rather than lowering energy production costs. This has restricted energy supply, at the same time as subsidising demand, raising prices.
The threat of a vicious circle is now very real. With the economy and labour markets continuing to struggle, consumers and businesses are desperate for lower prices now, rather than in the future. This acts as a major disincentive for governments to take the long term perspective needed to support the move to greener energy sources, potentially leading to higher future prices as fossil fuels become harder to procure.
Clearly, tax exemption is not the answer. Structural interventions in the medium term aimed at reducing the cost of production are key to lighter energy bills. Cleantech businesses in Italy also need financing support. Access to credit is perhaps the biggest constraint they are facing, aside from pervading economic uncertainty, particularly with respect to energy saving projects. Such projects do not generate cash flows as such, but rather they reduce costs and are therefore really difficult for banks and other investors to evaluate.
We also need to think about promoting policies that reduce energy consumption rather than cutting incentives for businesses investing in renewables. Well-targeted, well-thought out energy efficiency policies can help reduce the amount of energy consumers and businesses are using. Take the real estate and construction sector for example; in Italy, buildings consume twice as much energy as the average European property. I would also like to see more investment in energy saving technologies.
Politicians prefer to talk about large renewables incentive schemes, rather than energy saving measures, but this is a lost opportunity. Energy saving measures have the potential to lower energy demand and therefore prices, lowering business costs and increasing consumer spending power. In other words, a great way to get the Italian economy growing again.
Stefano Salvadeo is a partner and head of advisory at Bernoni Grant Thornton.