28 June 2006

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Business Today

1987 and 2007

The decision to build the Delimara power station upon the change of government in 1987 was crucial to ensure an increased and reliable supply of energy that enabled the country to prosper economically in subsequent years.
Without entering into the merits of whether the site chosen then was ideal, the Delimara power station promised to lay to rest, once and for all, the spectre of frequent power outages that stunted this country’s development. It was also promised by the newly installed Fenech Adami administration of the time that Delimara would ensure that the Marsa power plant would eventually close down.
While frequent power outages and blackouts were relegated to the past with the commissioning of the new power station, the second promise to dismantle the Marsa plant has never been kept for the simple reason that demand increased exponentially.
Delimara solved the country’s energy problems in 1987 but today, almost 20 years later, the country is once again moving towards an energy crisis in terms of supply and demand.
The energy plan presented by Enemalta last week shows that after 2007 Malta’s two power plants will only be producing enough energy to satisfy the country’s needs, with not enough spare capacity. The report talks of widespread power outages in the eventuality of a breakdown in either one of the power stations.
The difference with 1987 is that Enemalta, today, at least has a report outlining the current scenario and identifying possible solutions for the period 2006-2015 to boost the energy supply and ensure a reliable service.
Admittedly, the report does come at a very late stage. One year before Malta is plunged into a veritable energy crisis cannot be described as long-term planning but rather management by crisis.
The report states that an additional capacity of approximately 300MW is required by 2010 to meet the expected demand and to retire the Marsa steam plant if it is not made compliant by 1 January 2008. The report also says that the target date for upgrading the Marsa plant is “highly improbable” at this “late stage”, which means that the additional capacity should be available for summer 2008 in order to ensure security of supply.
The country has a crisis on its hands and a costly one indeed.
Unfortunately, energy production has always been a secondary priority in so far as long term planning is concerned with government being more concerned with the price of utility bills and the cost of oil to public coffers.
The report goes into various technical transformations that need to be carried out at both our power stations for them to be able to meet the ever increasing demand and also to cut on emissions in line with Malta’s EU commitments.
It also explores the possibility of shifting electricity generation from oil to gas, a cleaner option but which would require substantial investment, including a possible pipeline link to Sicily.
The report also talks of a cable link with the European energy grid via Sicily, which would supply us with enough energy to make up for the prospected increased demand. None of the last two option are new. They have been floated about as possible solutions since the mid-nineties. Unfortunately, as often happens, the reports drawn up in the past have been left on the shelf to gather dust.
Now, when the situation has reached quasi-crisis point the reports are brought out of deep freeze, only to find that related costs have shot up incredibly in the meantime.
The report does have some foresight in catering for the large new projects such as Midi, Mater Dei and Smart City, which will increase the pressure on demand in the foreseeable future. But it fails to address the issue of conservation.
There is little if no mention of ongoing educational campaigns, coupled with pro-active measures to ensure domestic demand is contained and possibly reduced.
Energy conservation may seem to be out of fashion or irrelevant to the problems at hand but it is still an important tool. Suffice to say that Denmark has registered a reduction of 1.8 per cent in household electricity demand after launching conservation campaigns. The amount may seem insignificant but it has helped Denmark to maintain its emissions targets on course with EU demands.
With all the millions of liri being mentioned government could surely spare a couple of thousands to deliver at least one, energy saving bulb to every household in Malta and change all lighting in government departments to energy saving alternatives.
Enemalta and government are banking on EU funds to partially finance the exorbitant costs of implementing the energy plan. Much as the plan is a welcome move, it also goes to show that in the years to come we will be paying out of our noses not only to finance our wasteful lifestyles but also to finance past errors of judgement by successive administrations in dealing with the energy demands of this country.

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