ROME, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- A long-sought government decree promoting the production of biomethane will be a boon to agriculture, the Italian Farmers Confederation said this week.
The farmers group made the prediction Wednesday during an agri-energy conference at the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Economic Development in Rome, where officials touted the benefits of the decree, which was issued in December after a wait of 2 1/2 years.
"The decree to encourage biomethane opens new opportunities for Italian farms, giving them impetus to do energy chain-intensive work and allowing farmers to supplement their incomes, producing food and energy in a sustainable way," the farmers group -- known by its Italian acronym CIA -- said in an issued statement.
Under the directive announced Dec. 9 by Agriculture, Food and Forestry Minister Nunzia De Girolamo, Italian farmers who produce methane gas derived from biomass such as livestock manure and crop byproducts will be provided financial incentives, depending on whether the biomethane is pumped into the national gas grid, used for co-generation or sold as a fuel for transportation.
The government hopes the measure will lead to the production of 5 billion to 8 billion cubic meters of renewable methane gas per year, an amount comparable to the current entire national output.
The Italian energy news website QualEnergia.it reported producers will receive a feed-in tariff at a premium rate equal to twice the price of the 2012 natural gas market for 20 years if selling directly into the grid.
Also included are 10 percent increases for smaller plants with a production capacity of less than 500 cubic meters per hour.
The CIA said the biomethane decree has "enormous potential" to help cash-strapped farmers and to reduce Italy's dependence on imported natural gas through the use of renewable energy sources -- the nation spends $80 billion per year on foreign oil and gas.
In addition, it predicted, biomethane made from biomass will put idled lands into use.
Italian Secretary of State for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Giuseppe Castiglione told reporters at the Rome event helping the country's agriculture sector "is at the heart" of the biomethane decree.
It will enable the government "to guarantee an increase in income and a reduced impact on the environment" as well as help the government meet sustainability requirements under the European Union's new Common Agricultural Policy.
Rather than competing with traditional farming activities, the measure will be instead complement them, Castiglione said, "which guarantees the creation of a virtuous path for companies, including small businesses, and new opportunities from the economic point of view."
"The ministerial decree was signed just over a month ago and is already showing results, but the system of calculating incentives still lacks the clarity needed to determine their amounts," Marco Mezzadri of Italian Association for Wood Energy told the Cremona, Italy, online newspaper Inviato Quotidiano.
"The duration of the incentives, regardless of the destination of biomethane product will be 20 years. But the method of determining the payments is still not entirely clear, and this is what will determine its effectiveness. On this front, all parties involved are working to provide clarification in a reasonably short time."