Sociologist, local councillor, activist from Malta

Monday, October 13, 2014

Energy and political gimmicks

So Malta’s new gas plant will be delayed by some months. Should this be a surprise?

During the 2013 general election campaign, when Labour had promised to have a new gas plant running by March 2015, and I had argued together with my Green Party colleagues (I was AD chairperson at the time) that it was practically impossible to have a regulated plant operate in such a short time frame.

Now that the inevitable is hitting the news headlines, everyone is saying that Labour should play the political price for such an electoral ‘gimmick’. True, but surely the issue should not simply be judged on the electoral circus.

Let us put predictable partisan-discourse aside.

I think that if Malta is to wait a few months longer to have a new gas plant as well as increased usage of renewable energy, I would say this would be worth the wait. This would be even more welcome when we finally consign the Marsa power station and oil dependency to the dustbin of history.

The Labour Government is insisting that its promises on utility bills for families and business will remain on track. Whilst lower prices are welcome, this should be coupled with increased sustainability.

As regards the political economy dimension of Malta’s new energy policy, one cannot help note the big business and geo-political relationships of power involved in a symbiotic relationship between the State and economic forces. On the other hand, I disagree with those who are ‘snobbing’ Malta’s relationship with China out of some pseudo-European essentialism. If anything, China is injecting new funds in an erstwhile near bankrupt State energy provider, and is also increasing options to diversify Malta’s energy mix. Malta is not the only EU member state which is in partnership with China on energy. Italy and Denmark are two other recent examples.

Being solely dependent on China may be an unsustainable way forward, but using the same logic, so would dependence on the interconnector from Sicily. Hence, having a diversified energy mix would provide flexibility for Malta’s energy options, and would also add credence to the argument of having Malta act as an energy hub in the Mediterranean.

In any case, increased flexibility, sovereignty and sustainability would take place if more investment takes place in terms of renewable energy. Malta is still Europe’s laggard in this regard, though we are now reading that Malta now has 3% of its energy coming from renewable sources and that the 10% target for EU2020 targets might actually be reached.

The months to come will provide interesting reading. The gas tanker controversy will add spice to the issue, and lack of transparency on various procedures will not help things. But let us not forget that in the final instance, energy sustainability, sovereignty and flexibility are more importance than partisan gimmicks from either side. Let us also not forget that there is no such thing as energy policy without risks. The managing of risks is another matter.

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