The non-discussion about energy – Ralph Cassar


The non-discussion about energy between Tweedledum and Tweedledee – Labour and the Nationalist Party – is full of myths and is testament to their lack of long-term vision for a sustainable zero-carbon future.

A basic mistake – or purposeful deceit – is including carbon dioxide emissions, a cause of climate change, and other pollutants in one ‘basket’.

There is no doubt whatsoever that gas is the cleanest fossil fuel. Clean in terms of pollutants directly affecting health, and also in that it gives off significantly less carbon dioxide. In fact, gas is considered as a transition fuel in the move towards renewable energy sources.

Even on these basic facts, PN and PL come up with myths.

First, where does the 90% reduction in emissions bandied about on government adverts come from? Probably they are referring to harmful nitrogen oxides. What they fail to mention is that a cause of this pollutant is traffic.

Heavy fuel oil is a big pollutant, both in terms of carbon dioxide and also in other noxious pollutants. True, BWSC’s power station has a filtering system which removes most pollutants. The fact remains that the toxic waste from the filtration process has to be disposed of. And, secondly Malta’s carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced.

The use of heavy fuel oil in the new BWSC plant was irresponsible, shortsighted and indefensible. Whatever Simon Busuttil says. No reduction in carbon dioxide emissions means Malta paying heavy fines. All the rhetoric about the environment is forgotten when it comes to energy.

In an article last Sunday on Maltatoday, PN candidate Mark Anthony Sammut, argues that we need to invest in renewables. Agreed. We’re late, and token schemes are simply not enough. At the same time he repeats the party line of massive reductions in the price of electricity.

To invest in a modern distribution system and for a real shift towards renewables, the country needs to invest. A reasonable price of electricity will ensure that that investment can take place. The sad thing is that through Labour’s privatization of the energy company a good proportion of profits are being siphoned off by foreign companies.

That neither PN, nor PL, speak about reducing as much as possible our total dependence on imported fuels and move towards as big a proportion of homegrown renewable energy speaks volumes of their vision, or rather their lack of it.

Incredibly, Sammut says that energy from the interconnector produces no emissions and is cleaner than gas because it “provides electricity being generated somewhere else”. Had he made such a statement in an environmental chemistry or energy policy examination, he would have deserved an ‘F’.

Emissions are still being generated by Malta, since the energy actually being used in Malta. Carbon emissions have a cost – which will probably increase in the near future.

Unless all interconnector electricity is coming from renewable sources (which it is not), Sammut’s and PN’s claims are totally false and deceitful. Does some of the energy come from nuclear power stations as well? What about the radioactive waste generated by these plants? As long as it is not in our backyard it probably doesn’t matter, does it?

Back to the LNG tanker.

LNG has its risks. The risks could have been massively reduced by having the tanker anchored out at sea. That’s what they did in Livorno. There must have been a good reason for this. Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi should stop playing hide and seek with the public.

What we need is as many different sources of energy as possible – we cannot depend on just one source. What we need is to invest whatever it takes to reduce risks which can have devastating consequences. What we really need is to move at a faster rate to more energy independence through investment in renewable energy sources. The silly war of words on who can provide the cheapest electricity possible ignores all these issues.

The biggest and real revolution in energy generation would be planning and investing massively in renewables. Creating a homegrown industry in this sector and reducing our dependence as far as possible on foreign fossil fuels. From photovoltaics, to wind turbines, micro turbines, biogas and other renewable sources: the future can start now.

Ralph Cassar is secretary general of Alternattiva Demokratika and local councilor in Attard