Varese Ligure: A small rural town in Italy ahead of the sustainability game with renewable energy and organic farming

Varese Ligure, a small medieval town located in the Liguria region of Italy, is known to its inhabitants as the “circular village”.

The unique circular layout of the town – hence the name Borgo Rotondo –  with its round central piazza and small castle is also home to picturesque medieval houses with charming pastel facades. But the accolades do not stop there, for this rural town, perched among rolling hills and fertile land well, has more recently become known as a 100% sustainable town.

Today the Ligurian town produces more electricity than it uses for its 2,400 inhabitants – all from wind, solar, and small hydro projects.

The shift towards renewable energy and organic farming began to occur in the 1990s, long before either became prolific. At the time, Varese Ligure was viewed as at an “economic disadvantage” for its geographical isolation, lack of modern industry, and traditional farming practices. This caused the migration of nearly 4,000 residents to other towns and cities from the once 6,000-strong population of Varese Ligure.

Undettered by this exodus and economic troubles, the town decided that part of turning things around was to become environmentally sustainable. The then mayor of Varese Ligure, Maurizio Caranza, decided to spearhead the focus on organic agriculture and sustainability.

“We realised the only thing to do to prevent the village from dying was to protect the environment and rehabilitate the agriculture sector,” Maurizio Caranza told the Italian news agency, Adnkronos International.

The Mayor also decided to capitalise on the fact that Varese Ligure and the wider valley boasted clean air and was unpolluted – and so declaring Varese Ligure a sustainable tourist destination.

In order to make the transition towards renewable energy and organic farming, the City Council dedicated time and resources towards creating an education system that would help create a community that values sustainability long into the future. In 1996, they formed the Environmental Education Center (CEA) which uses the classroom and the field to educate school children and adults about organic farms, dairy cooperatives, wind turbines, biomass, solar panels, sustainability, solar cookers, energy consumption and climate change.

Varese Ligure now has four wind turbines that produce 8 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year. By 2001, Varese Ligure was already generating three times more electricity than the town uses, and continues to do so almost twenty years on. The shift to renewable energy has also added jobs.

The town hall and secondary school are covered with solar photovoltaic panels, producing on site 98% and 62% of their electricity needs, respectively. The wastewater treatment plant has a 4 kW PV system and the town swimming pool is heated with solar panels. There is also a small 8 kW hydroelectric system.

The electricity from the renewable energy systems is fed into the local grid managed by ACAM, the electric utility company in La Spezia. While ACAM manages and maintains the wind turbines, the ACAM utility and the municipality jointly own them. ACAM pays Varese Ligure around $30,000 each year for the excess electricity and also provides the town with various services as part of its payment for the electricity, such as sorted waste and landfill site management.

In conjunction with the development of a renewable energy infrastructure, a total of 108 organic farms now supply 98% of the town’s meat and dairy produce; water is purified using environmentally friendly technology, 25% of its refuse is recycled, and other waste has been significantly reduced.

Varese Ligure also has six times more tourists than it did before making these changes, many coming to visit just to see its renewable energy achievements.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

 

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