MILAN - Italy could shut down its coal-fired power stations in 2024, a year earlier than planned, if gas prices remain at current low levels, Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said on Monday.

Italy, which had to find an alternative for the gas it used to import from Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, increased its production of energy from coal to 7.5% of the total last year, from 4.6% in 2021.

"The intention is to abandon coal by 2025 or even earlier... I hope to succeed by 2024, if gas prices hold at the current (low) levels," Pichetto Fratin said at an event organised by La Repubblica newspaper.

Under its current plan for energy and climate (PNIEC), which is under review, the government targets an exit from coal in 2025.

The minister said that natural gas, which is considered the least polluting fossil fuel, should accompany Italy's energy transition path until 2050, while the country gradually increases its renewable energy capacity.

The environment ministry's updated strategy for energy and climate, to be unveiled in late June, will aim to increase power generation from renewables to two-thirds of the total by 2030 from the current one third, Pichetto Fratin said.

The minister said it would be up to future governments to decide whether to reintroduce nuclear energy, which Italy abandoned via referendum in the late 1980s in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.

"Analysts are saying that renewables sources will not be enough without nuclear energy," Pichetto Fratin said, adding that the current administration had only allowed research and tests for this energy source.

(Reporting by Francesca Landini, editing by Alvise Armellini and Bernadette Baum)