Malta's energy crisis

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If there were any doubt that the spectre of the 1980s energy crisis has returned to haunt the Maltese islands with a vengeance, this summer’s spate of power failures should surely have convinced even the most diehard of sceptics

The most recent power cut, occurring last Sunday, called to mind that most memorable of quotes by Enemalta chairman Alex Tranter, who said after the July 16 outage that the corporation was not in a position to guarantee that such an event would not recur in future.
“No electricity provider anywhere in the world could offer such a guarantee,” Dr Tranter insisted at the time: words which may well be true in themselves, but which – placed in the context of what now appears to be the chronic and systemic failure of both Malta’s power stations, for which Enemalta is theoretically responsible – can be interpreted as a pre-emptive justification for the State-owned monopoly’s inability to deliver quality service at all.
Added to the fact that the Maltese consumer is virtually condemned to depend on such an an unreliable source for so essential a commodity, it can only be taken as an indictment of the present administration’s entire energy policy… or lack thereof.
After businesses in Malta suffered an estimated loss of anything up to €10 million in an entire day’s work for one single event, surely the public deserves a more thorough explanation for the current state of affairs.
Most cogently still, we know today that June’s nationwide blackout had been predicted in an Enemalta report published in June 2006. And yet, despite urgent recommendations to upgrade the Delimara power station before the end of 2008, there has been no significant change to Malta’s total electricity production capacity in the last three years.
The Electricity Generation Plan 2006-2015 had predicted that, based on the expected growth in demand (megawatts, MW) the reserve capacity available after the summer of 2007 would be less than 60MW, which means that any loss due to a fault in one of the large units (MPS boilers 7 & 8, DPS units 1& 2 or DPS CCGT plant) during the summer months will result in a shortfall in generation capacity resulting in power outages possibly in large areas on the islands.
However, it appears that no investment had been made in increasing generation capacity since the report was prepared: although to be fair, this coincided with the start of tendering negotiations for the extension of the Delimara power station.
But this only deepens existing suspicions regarding the tendering process itself: now the subject of serious allegations concerning the way this €200 million contract was awarded; as well as misgivings from certain parties over the technology it will utilise.
First, Enemalta Corporation’s evaluation committee proposed to award this contract to a company whose technology was from the outset destined not to meet the required demand. This was confirmed by none other than Austin Gatt on 20 June 2006, during an Enemalta seminar in which the Infrastructure Minister stated that medium-speed diesel engines did “not meet present” environmental standards, while power stations powered by combined cycle gas turbines did.
One of the recommended solutions to raise output levels to 300MW – supposedly to be generated by 2010 – was to build of “a combined cycle gas turbine 130MW plant.” The additional 200MW was to come from a cable link to Sicily.
So much for theory. In practice, the Danish firm BWSC, which was awarded the Delimara extension tender, will be providing Enemalta with a medium speed diesel engine…. notwithstanding the fact that Israeli firm Ido Hutney Projekt/Bateman had proposed a cheaper combined cycle gas turbine, of the kind recommended by Gatt himself. To compound matters, BWSC’s medium speed diesel engine will be required to be converted in the near future into a combined cycle gas turbine – at an additional cost which will most probably be passed on to the consumer.
Secondly, doubts still linger as to why Malta’s emission limits were decreased back in March 2008, on request of Enemalta Corporation itself. Ido Hutney, which is seeking legal action on the BWSC award, claims this was done to suit the Danish firm’s technology’s emissions. And Labour MP Evarist Bartolo claims an Enemalta dossier also shows that the Corporation had also identified combined cycle gas turbines as “the only generating plant able to comply with present expected emissions in 2020”, the European Commission’s deadline for reduced carbon emissions, “at the lowest generation cost.”
Maltese consumers who are now paying higher prices for a considerably less reliable service would be justified in questioning the above apparent contradictions, and to expect serious explanations from Enemalta.

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