Towards a much-needed energy security policy

Malta’s energy policy must necessarily ensure that we have a constant supply of electrical energy which, as far as is reasonable, is not dependable on too many variable factors.

On Wednesday morning for the umpteenth time, we had an unplanned power cut across the islands. It was brief as Enemalta’s dedicated labour force restored power in a short time. At the time of writing the cause of the power cut is still unknown.

This follows another power cut, much more widespread, on 10 February, when, we were informed that there were problems with the Malta-Sicily energy interconnector.

During the storm which battered the Maltese islands last week the LNG tanker was temporarily out of action for a number of hours as a safety precaution. During this critical time the electricity normally supplied by the Delimara power station had to be made good for by the interconnector. It is within this context, the interconnector, was, for around two long hours inoperative with a large part of the islands being without electricity, as neither the interconnector nor the Delimara power station were functioning simultaneously. How is that for energy security?

Accidents do happen. This was however no accident! It was the logical consequence of the politics of energy generation in these islands. It is a case of trusting too much the interconnector and being dependent on it. This misplaced trust is so much ingrained in the local political set-up that a second interconnector is planned: this will ensure that we are completely dependent on the interconnectors. Instead of reducing energy dependency government strives to increase it!

Readers would undoubtedly remember the number of times ship anchors have damaged the energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily. It happened off the coast of Sicily when the anchors of the Singaporean flagged tanker Di Matteo caused extensive damage to the interconnector in December 2019 off the Ragusa coast. It also happened just off the Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coast when the vessel Chem P almost ran aground in March 2022. It dragged its anchor along the seabed causing extensive damage to the interconnector in the process.

The interconnector is clearly accident prone, both in Maltese waters as well as in the Sicilian Channel. Due to the substantial maritime traffic in the region, these accidents will inevitably re-occur.

No one in his right senses would plan the implementation of an energy policy dependent on these factors. But this is just what successive Maltese governments have planned and implemented. Unfortunately, the current state of Malta’s energy policy is the direct result of its mismanagement. The trading of insults across the parliamentary chamber will not solve anything.

Its immaterial whether the interconnector tripped as a result of being overloaded or whether it developed a fault as a result of something else. The net result is that power stoppage is becoming to frequent an occurrence, and this is unacceptable.

The expense incurred in repairs to the interconnector are substantial. This is however insignificant when compared to the damage which is being inflicted on our economy and on the country’s reputation as a result of a myopic energy policy.

We need to get our energy priorities right very quickly. Plans for a second interconnector should be scrapped the soonest. Instead, the current drive to increase the generation of renewable energy should be intensified. Likewise, we should accelerate the reinforcement of our electricity distribution system as this would make it possible to increase the generation of renewable energy from the rooftops of our dwellings. This potential is currently capped as a result of a distribution system which cannot handle the increased electricity load which would be generated as a result of a larger input of renewable energy from our households.

Macro-projects aimed at generating more renewable energy as a result of business investment can co-exist with micro-projects handled by our households. If this is done properly, maybe we can go much further then projected in the draft National Sustainable Development Strategy which mysteriously has us anchored at an “11.5 per cent share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption”. We need more ambitious targets than that! Achieving a 50 per cent target for renewable energy generation over a ten-year timeframe would be more suitable to our needs and requirements. Without ambitious targets we will never achieve the 2050 carbon neutrality objective.

The projected pipeline which, when it materialises could possibly be used to switch over from LNG to hydrogen will, on its own be insufficient in the march towards carbon neutrality.

Maltese governments have in the past years been happy in announcing successful negotiations in reducing EU renewable energy targets applicable to Malta from 20 to 10 per cent. We are now shouldering the consequences of that myopic policy. It is about time that we change course. Only then can we move steadfastly towards a realistic policy which ensures our energy security, shedding in the process our dependence on the existing and projected interconnectors between Malta and Sicily.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 19 February 2023