Environmental groups claimed the new top management team at global green giant Enel faces an early test of its energy transition commitment over plans for a gas power plant that’s subject to a legal challenge in Italy.

Client Earth and WWF Italy said they are taking court action over approval by the Italian authorities of a 1.7GW gas facility to replace the retiring Federico 2 coal generation plant in Brindisi region.

According to the groups, Enel has failed to withdraw the gas plant plans despite data from Italian grid operator Terna showing it is unnecessary, with the environmental groups arguing that green power sources should be used instead.

Enel has adopted a contradictory stance by failing to withdraw the application and fighting the legal action, allege the activists.

“With the appointment of a new chairman and CEO, Enel needs to confirm if it will maintain its stated intention to turn the area into a renewable energy hub, or if it will in fact proceed with the proposed fossil fuel project,” Client Earth and WWF Italy said in a statement.

Flavio Cattaneo, a former chief executive at Terna, became Enel’s CEO and AC Milan chair Paolo Scaroni its chairman on a government-backed slate after a shareholder vote earlier in May where they were opposed by some investors in the partially state-owned utility.

Italian media has reported previous scepticism by the new leadership team over the extent of Enel's embrace of the green revolution under outgoing CEO Francesco Starace, who turned Enel into a global wind and solar giant with almost 60GW in place by the end of 2022.

Client Earth and WWF Italy claimed investors would also be watching the decision over Federico 2.

Mariagrazia Midulla, head of climate and energy at WWF Italy said: “Enel’s choice in the direction of renewable energy needs to be maintained and expanded, and it can only come through bold and innovative choices. Shifting this high-capacity power plant from one fossil fuel to another would run counter to vital decarbonisation goals – and many investors’ expectations.

“Authorising a huge gas-fired power station in 2023 is really out of the question, and even more so in a region such as Puglia, which is fit for renewables.”

An Enel spokesperson said in a statement sent to Recharge: “In confirmation of Enel’s plan to exit coal-fired generation in Italy, the company informs that for the reconversion of the coal-fired plants it will evaluate the best available technologies based on the needs indicated by Italy’s national transmission grid operator.”

A court hearing over the consent challenge to Federico 2 is scheduled for 19 July.