News | Sunday, 03 January 2010

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2010: Powerless to change

2010 is likely to be the year when Malta finally admits it has a serious energy crisis on its hands. Raphael Vassallo on why we will pay a high price for Enemalta’s strategic failures... and not just in utility bills, either

The year gone by was a year of uncertainty, not least in the energy provision department. For the first time since the 1980s, Malta was forced to acknowledge that its power supply – arguably the most expensive in Europe – could not be guaranteed on a long-term basis; this at a time when the Malta Resources Authority had just ‘approved’ (like it had a choice in the matter) the government’s second upward revision of water and electricity bills in less than a year.
Small wonder the Maltese have a reputation for generosity: we are willing to pay the highest tariffs in Europe for a service which is at best unreliable. Nor are the revised utility bills the only costs to be borne by the consumer. As electricity prices continue spiralling out of reach, we may yet find ourselves having to make unplanned investments in energy saving devices; to make do without creature comforts to which we have grown (perhaps unwisely) accustomed in recent years; not to mention the high price we continue to pay in terms of our health.
Malta boasts among the highest incidences of respiratory diseases in Europe, in part because of particulate matter associated with the burning of oil. And with plans for offshore wind-farms failing to get off the ground this year, we will most likely remain 100% reliant on oil for our energy production for several decades to come... having just controversially chosen Heavy Fuel Oil for the Delimara power station.
For all this, the biggest challenge facing the Maltese energy consumer in 2010 is likely to remain water... not so much because of the price we pay for this (subsidised) commodity, but rather because a substantial percentage of the electricity we produce is automatically diverted to Malta’s reverse osmosis plants – a technology which remains prohibitively expensive to run.
Water production is in fact one of the reasons our electricity tariffs are so high in the first place; and yet we have to date resisted implementing a national water strategy, much to the consternation of environmental NGOs.
Instead, we have been urged to invest in new devices to save water – the latest being a water-saving toilet-flushing, subsidised by government, to go with the five free energy-saving light-bulbs distributed last year.
All that remains is another government campaign urging us all to take showers instead of baths; to re-use the water for flushing; and to wash our cars with well-water– something most of us will have no difficulty doing (having after all lived through the 1980s); but for the fact that, despite our efforts, government itself will not actually change the energy regime that brought us to this pass in the first place.
In the end it will be up to the consumers to do what the present administration has so far failed to do – that is, change their own lifestyles and habits to accommodate the astronomical losses made by Enemalta (whose accounts are still overdue for publication)... while the same unsustainable energy regime persists in its old ways regardless.

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