di Marcello Mento
(ANSA) - Rome, October 4 - Italy's economy ministry confirmed Thursday that the government is considering approaches from three firms interested in taking over the Alcoa aluminium plant in Sardinia. The firms are Klesch industrial group of Switzerland, Italian firm Kite Gen, and "a major Australian company", said Economy Undersecretary Claudio De Vincenti. Serious negotiations can now begin with at least one of the interested parties, De Vincenti said on the sidelines of a conference by leftwing trade union CGIL. Klesch has already written to the government, confirming its interest in acquiring the Portovesme smelter from the US aluminium giant. The minister urged the other two bidders to follow suit and "initiate negotiations". It had been previously known that three companies had put out feelers, but it hadn't been clear how serious they were about acquiring Alcoa's Sardinian operation. Alcoa has already announced plans to close its aluminium smelter on Sardinia, triggering work protests and an intense hunt to find a buyer. Global commodities trader Glencore was interested in taking over the smelter in Portovesme, but last month pulled out, saying the energy costs were too high. Earlier this week, the European Commission approved the extension until 2015 of one type of energy discounts for companies like Alcoa operating in Sardinia and Sicily. Those discounts are related to agreements with large electricity consumers that accept cuts in their energy service without notice. That decision has also rekindled hopes among Alcoa workers that their jobs might yet be saved. A delegation of 25 workers and union representatives were scheduled to meet with government officials Thursday in Rome to press their case.