Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 23 August 2009
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Had enough of power cuts? Blame this government

Thanks to the lack of vision of the PN government Malta has already started running out of electricity. The power-cuts we have gone through in the last weeks are bound to become more frequent in the months ahead while new generating plant at Delimara is being installed. An Enemalta Dossier dated 6th March 2008 makes this very clear: “this project is already ‘late’ and power cuts will start in the summer from 2009 onwards … The 100MW Generation plant must be in service during 2010. Delays in this time line will result in Enemalta’s inability to meet demand during the peak season.”
The PN has had practically 22 years of uninterrupted office to prepare and implement a national energy strategy to meet our evolving needs and aspirations. It has failed dismally to do so. Successive PN governments have had enough time to realise how the existing generating plant has aged considerably: Marsa steam turbines are 46 years old, the age of boilers ranges from 22 to 40 years. At Delimara the steam units and gas turbines have less than half of their design lifetime left to remain in operation.
Our plants are among the most inefficient in Europe with operating efficiency at Marsa at 27%, the steam plant at Delimara at 32% and gas turbines at 40%. Government has known for at least six years that with this kind of plant and given the growing demand for electricity, Enemalta was being put into an impossible situation where it “will only just meet the expected demand in 2010, with no reserve capacity. In fact if the rate of increase in peak load during the period 2008-2010 is abnormally high or if there are major outages of generating plant the Corporation… may face problems as early as 2009.”
In fact these problems have already started. They have not been worse and perhaps will not become much worse because of the economic downturn in tourism and manufacturing and in the property and construction sector. Enemalta had estimated two years ago that by 2015 we will need 531MW. At the moment we have only 551MW at most but by 2012 the Marsa Power Station (267MW) has to be closed down as beyond that date it will probably be in breach of the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive and we would have to pay penalties to continue to operate it.
The new demands for more electricity are coming from these developments: Mater Dei is consuming 12MW more than St Luke’s Hospital, MIDI needs 14MW by 2012, Pender Place is estimated to need 8MW by 2012, and Smart City (if it does not turn out to be Mirage City) will need 30MW by 2015.
Government knew about these increasing demands and yet dragged its feet and allowed crucial years to be wasted. No wonder that Enemalta’s 6th March 2008 Dossier states that the main weaknesses in Malta’s energy sector include the “Lack of sufficient investment in generation and distribution over last few years. New plant investment, both in generation and distribution is already too late. Distribution infrastructure is aging.”
Three years ago government approved its policy to address these problems. But this policy turned out to be just mere words. The Enemalta March 2008 dossier says: “the Corporation will have only one site for expansion of the generating system, namely Delimara Power Station, unless a new site is to be selected. However given the present planning situation in Malta, this is unlikely, and thus the limitation of the site at Delimara presents other problems. Since the present site at Delimara can only accommodate three more 130MW CCGT type plants and even less if diesel based plants are selected, this would give Delimara a potential maximum of around 694MW.”
Government is aware that the Delimara site is expected to reach its limits by 2015 and now even earlier as government has abandoned its 2006 policy to go for gas turbines for the new generating plant and chosen the diesel engines that were defined as inappropriate by government three years ago. Where will the new plant be accommodated? Will government have to reclaim sea at Delimara to find new space to meet future demands?
The Generation Plan for the years 2006 – 2015 approved by Cabinet “identifies the use of Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) as being the only generating plant able to comply with the present expected emission limits in 2020.” It also stresses the need for 200MW to be replaced by new generating plant or a cable interconnection with Sicily.
In the dossier dated 6th March 2008 Enemalta says: “In order to minimise the local cost of electricity these CCGT plants should be fired with gas which implies that a local supply of gas, either through a pipeline or a terminal will also be required.”
The same dossier remarks that “medium speed diesel engines … require twice the area of a CCGT plant, which will result in reducing the eventual capability of Delimara Power Station to accommodate new plant.”
And yet government and Enemalta have reversed their option for CCGT plants for the extension of the Delimara Power Station and selected Medium Speed Diesel Engines as proposed by BWSC in its bid. Minister Austin Gatt on 20th June 2006 and Government through its New Generation Plant 2006 – 2015 had declared that no more Medium Diesel Plants would be installed in Malta to generate electricity.
This Generation Plan approved by Cabinet has been promptly forgotten when we are only three years into its lifetime. Last April the Malta Resources Authority published ‘A Proposal for a New Energy Policy’ and surprise, surprise… it recommends the use of diesel engine for the new plants at Delimara “under current and foreseeable circumstances”:
• A Combined Cycle Diesel Engine running on Heavy Fuel Oil with possibility of conversion to natural gas is the best option for immediate increase in local generation capacity;
• Further expansion would be based on CCGT running on natural gas.
A possible timeline for the expansion of local generation capacity is:
• In 2011: Commissioning of an HFO-based Combined Cycle Diesel Generation Units (7+1) Total 136 MW capacity;
• In 2014: Commissioning of a Gas based CCGT (2+1); 126 MW capacity.”
The decision to go for CCGT in 2006 has now been put off for 2014. Just in time to justify the selection of the bid by BWSC based on 8 Combined Cycle Diesel Generation Units for the new plant at Delimara.

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