Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 24 May 2009
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How green was the prime minister?

Richard Llewellyn’s masterpiece ‘How green was my valley’ was published 70 years ago. This novel is an elegy for a Welsh coal-mining community that falls apart under the pressures of modern life. However much he tries, the protagonist cannot recreate the world of his childhood, including the green valley where he played. It is gone for ever.
Just over a year ago Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi used the election campaign to reinvent himself as an environmentalist. His message to those voters who put the environment as one of their top priorities was: “Vote green for me”. He promised that in a new Cabinet he would take personal responsibility for environmental protection. He would ensure that as Prime Minister every ministry and government department would have sustainable development as its guiding light.
The PN’s electoral manifesto promises (Proposal 187) that a Gonzi government would “reduce harmful emissions in the air, land and sea”. Proposal 188 commits the Gonzi government to practice green public procurement policies “and to discriminate positively in favour of those companies that offer products and solutions that are environmentally superior.”
Government has decided to go for a new power station that is harmful for the environment. It is clear that Gonzi’s conversion to environmentalism was as brief as the electoral campaign. His commitment to practice green public procurement policies was another electoral trick.
I have in my possession the February 2009 Report by the Adjudicating Committee on the Bids for Local Generating Capacity for Enemalta Corporation. Evaluating the bid by Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A.S. (BWSC) for a power station that works on both heavy fuel oil (HFO) and gas oil and can be converted to natural gas firing for the cost of over €27 million, the Committee says: “Bidders proposing the diesel engine combined cycle plants indicated that a continuous supply of a combined total of around 60 tons of reagents and lubricating oil per day is required. In addition, between 30 and 50 tons per day of hazardous waste will be generated by the exhaust emission abatement equipment. The waste is considered hazardous due to the presence of heavy metals originating from the fuel. This waste is similar in nature to the waste produced by the existing HFO fired boilers. This waste most probably will have to be exported, although its use as a bulking out additive in mass concrete is being investigated. All this would require a continuously operating logistics system to handle these materials.”
Government’s decision to relax emission standards in January 2008 just before the last election paved the way for a new power station that could get away from stringent environmental obligations.
In the coming days government wants to hurry and sign the contract with BWSC whose bid was preferred when an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) had not yet been carried out. In fact in its report the Adjudication Committee says: “It should be noted that the costs of the power blocks offered may still be subject to variation due to possible additional requirements resulting from the pending EIA study currently being undertaken. Such potential additional costs will only be known after the EIA process is concluded.”
To operate its power station which is described as a prototype in the Committee Report (so government wants us to be experimented upon) BWSC will have to change the present chimney height in Delimara from 65 metres to 100 metres. To reduce harmful emissions an “ammonia rich reactant” and “sodium bi-carbonate dry powder” will be used. How will these chemicals affect the environment and health of the people living in Marsaxlokk and in the south of Malta? How will it affect the proposed Delimara National Park that has been identified as an area of prime opportunity for afforestation and as a new space for recreation for thousands of families?
Choosing to purchase such a power station the government is definitely reneging on its commitment to practice green public procurement policies. Another bidder offering to operate the power station on natural gas firing which is very clean and creates no pollution was refused. Government is saying that this system costs more to run. This is a lame excuse. It is the only green credentials that the Prime Minister has – a fig leaf with which he is trying to cover an obscene decision.
I am informed that BWSC is already demanding the payment of an extra €15 million on top of the €165 million it asked for to provide the new power station. I am also informed that government is planning to raise water and electricity bills again after the 6th June elections for the European Parliament. Enemalta’s finances are in a terrible state and by the end of this summer its debt level will reach €800 million. It juggles its account between one bank and another to be able to meets its running costs and pay the salaries of its employees. Families and businesses will be squeezed again to pay for the gross inefficiencies and mismanagement at Enemalta. To make it worse we are being asked to finance a new power station that will be bad for our health for generations to come.


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