The Santa Barbara mining district covers around 1,600 hectares. The extraction work, which began in the Municipality of Cavriglia in 1955, was later extended to the municipal area of Figline Valdarno, which recently became the Municipality of Figline and Incisa Valdarno.
In 2017, Enel Produzione decided to include the power station in the Futur-e programme and the programme will now be integrated with the existing requalification projects.
The power station, which also goes by the name of Santa Barbara, was converted to a combined cycle plant in 2006. It is still in operation today, but the Santa Barbara mine has not been used since 1994 and is currently at the centre of a major rehabilitation plan.
In 2004 Enel presented the rehabilitation project for the entire area and then in 2006, a Letter of Intent was signed by it and the Local Authorities which defined the work to be done and the new usage goals of the similar areas that were part of the larger rehabilitation remit for the Santa Barbara mine.
The project, which was given the go-ahead by the Ministry of the Environment in 2009 and approved by the Region of Tuscany in 2010, will see the morphological stabilisation of the land involved in the mining, the completion of the naturalisation of the Castelnuovo and Allori lakes through landscaping of the shores and the creation of a hydraulic network of inflows and outflows that will allow the quality of the water to be improved and provide new opportunities for using the areas themselves. Planting work is also planned that will help boost and develop the biodiversity in the area as are infrastructural connections to guarantee low impact use of the area through pedestrian and cycling trails and the stitching back together of the road network that existed before the mining phase through the creation of gravel and link roads.
Lignite was extracted industrially from the 19th century to the first half of the 1900s from a large number of underground mines. This mining work drove the development of San Giovanni Valdarno’s steel industry. In the 1930s, a lignite-fuelled thermoelectric power station was also built but it was destroyed when the area was engulfed in fighting during Second World War.
The Santa Barbara thermoelectric power station was built around the mid-1950s. Open-cast mining was commenced to fuel it using modern excavation machinery as huge quantities of earth had to be moved in order to remove the layers covering the lignite seam. Mining finished for good in 1994. The two thermoelectric units of the Santa Barbara Power Station continued to operate using oil as fuel until a new combined cycle unit was installed in 2006. It is still in operation today. It was built to the strictest environmental standards and is fuelled by natural gas with an overall output capacity of 392 MW. The old units were decommissioned and later demolished.
A total of 44 million tonnes of lignite were mined over the course of the mine’s career. Even as the mining continued, however, work also began on making the area safer. This included partial filling-in of the mining cavity which was up to 100 metres deep. It was in these areas that the Castelnuovo, Allori and San Donato lakes were created. The areas were renaturalised, encouraging the spontaneous development of riparian vegetation and fish and wildlife repopulation. The rehabilitated areas were also planted with 241 hectares of new forestry.
Following this huge amount of renaturalisation work, some parts of the mining area, covering approximately 1,300 hectares in total, were spun off from the mining title and ceded to local authorities and private owners. At present, in compliance with the definitive and agreed project, the executive projects are yet to be completed i.e. the environmental rehabilitation work on the remaining area which is in the region of 1,600 hectares in size.