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Cooltorise in Parma: Social Innovation and the Fight Against Summer Energy Poverty

Before participating in the Cooltorise project, the Administration of the City of Parma had not yet identified the specificity of energy poverty, an issue with unique and significant characteristics. Thanks to this project, a fruitful collaboration was established between the Ecological Transition sector and the Social Services sector. This synergy led to the creation of a Permanent Committee, open to other sectors as well, to systematically address the problem.

Phase 1: Data Collection and Procedure Development

Initially, there was a need to collect data and information on this phenomenon, still largely undefined. By involving the Tax Office and the administrative offices of the Social Services, valuable insights were obtained regarding the number of people seeking help due to energy poverty, the types of users, and the overall costs. Efforts are underway to develop automatisms and procedures to turn this flow of information from occasional to systematic. Currently, the Administration bears significant costs in supporting families in energy poverty, with ample room for rationalizing these expenses. Additionally, a questionnaire administered to social workers revealed that energy poverty absorbs a significant portion of their working time. It was therefore necessary to invest in training personnel who support minors, adults, and the elderly in difficulty, creating a network of individuals with a common cultural foundation on the subject.

Phase 2: Operational Improvements and Prevention

In the next phase, efforts focused on simple yet effective interventions to improve the current approach. The main electricity and gas provider in the province was contacted to sign a protocol that provides guidelines on delinquency procedures initiated against vulnerable individuals. With a focus on prevention, an emergency fund is being activated, which, through streamlined mechanisms, allows blocking the procedures for utility disconnection. This fund prevents families from experiencing the trauma and stigma of utility disconnection, while also allowing the Administration to save costs for the reactivation of services.

Phase 3: Continuous Training and Support

In the third phase, soon to be implemented, training will be provided for individuals receiving economic support from the Municipality and/or housing assignments from the Azienda Casa Emilia Romagna. The “Know How to Live” module will address topics such as proper energy management, water, waste, and heating systems, including personal finance management. This training will be provided periodically to ensure continuity. Trained citizens and other users can refer to a network of territorial help desks being established. This network, still in its embryonic phase, will operate at recognized social entities such as associations, neighborhood houses, and community centers, managed by volunteers supported by a technician. This technician will not only coordinate activities but also provide specialized advice and gather data and experiences.

Future Prospects

In the medium to long term, the focus will be on addressing the issue of low-cost energy retrofitting for apartments inhabited by low-income people, a topical subject also in light of the EPBD directive. This project involves significant costs both economically and organizationally and will require resources for a long period. Currently, efforts are being made to find suitable financing channels to support this initiative.

The Cooltorise project has engaged hundreds of citizens, particularly vulnerable ones, allowing them to discuss energy poverty. This represents a significant result. However, perhaps the most important contribution of the project is having drawn attention to the issue of summer energy poverty, now rightly recognized as strategic in the fight against social hardship.

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Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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