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Wind farms scrapped for solar energy

Solar energy farms will be the Labour government’s answer to the need for renewable energy in Malta, MaltaToday has learnt.

The Ministry for Energy and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) are expected to publish a policy on solar farms in the coming weeks while the government is still consulting on the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP).

Bound by the EU 2020 targets, Malta must produce 10% of its energy through renewable sources by the year 2020.

The Nationalist administration’s original plan was to see the generation of up to 4% of Malta’s energy consumption derived from an offshore wind farm at Is-Sikka l-Bajda off Mellieha.

Plans submitted to Brussels in 2010 had shown that the main source of renewable energy would be three new wind farms, and the Sikka l-Bajda project was meant to be the biggest source of renewable energy.

Environmental NGOs had criticised the project since its inception, warning about the negative impact an offshore wind farm would have so close to the Ghadira Nature Reserve and areas of special conservation.

Now, MEPA’s environmental unit has warned that a wind farm could negatively affect land and sea uses, certain bird species and their migratory routes and the geology, among others.

The Environment Protection Directorate also warned that the proposed mitigation measures would not be enough.

The Ministry for Energy now appears to have scrapped all plans for wind farms in Malta.

“The Sikka l-Bajda project is not feasible for a number of reasons. Hence, in its absence, the current government had to make other plans to reach the equivalent amount through other renewable sources,” a spokesman for the Energy Ministry said.

The spokesman said that a study to identify potential sites for wind farms was already carried out by Mott MacDonald “and practically all sites had issues”.

He explained that as Malta’s bathymetry exceeds 50m within a few hundred metres from the shoreline – which is the limit for current wind farm technology – no alternative site was suitable for such a project.

“Hence the previous administration’s plans for renewable energy were based on weak foundations,” the spokesman added.

The government, the Energy Ministry said, believed that solar energy was more feasible considering the climatic conditions of Malta. Biofuels and other clean energy sources will also contribute to the government’s plans for clean energy.

“This year Malta will meet its interim target for renewable energy thanks to various schemes and feed-in tariffs which were implemented by the private industry and households. It is our ambition to maximise the use of local renewable sources to reach our targets,” the spokesman said.

In his position as Resources Minister, George Pullicino, today the Opposition’s spokesman for energy, had argued that Malta would be “stuck” if the proposed wind farm turns out not to be feasible.

Contacted by MaltaToday, Pullicino said the proposed offshore wind farm project was subjected to the full environmental impact statement (EIS) once the site had been identified as a potential site for an offshore wind facility.

The site, Pullicino added, had been shortlisted by a team of experts appointed specifically to assess a number of alternative sites for offshore wind in Malta. The EIS had proved inconclusive on the bird studies and further studies were recommended.

“Unlike the recent experience with the LNG tanker in Marsaxlokk, these additional studies were initiated in close consultation with MEPA and all this before the application was submitted for formal approval by MEPA’s board,” he said.

Pullicino confirmed that wind energy formed an integral part of the NREAP. The action plan had been issued by the then Nationalist administration for that consultation and had been approved by the European Commission.

“Offshore wind, waste and solar were the three indigenous sources of clean energy that the PN in government was pursuing. It is still believed that the sea offers good opportunities to help Malta reach its renewable energy targets and it is unfortunate that nothing is being done by this Government to explore this potential further,” Pullicino added.

He argued that “the extra electrical energy – well beyond the real needs of our country – to be produced by the new LNG power station has demotivated the government to do further work in this regard”.

“Offshore wind has evolved a lot with technologies capable of operating 12 nautical miles offshore. One hopes that land reclamation will have less of an impact than the is-Sikka l-Bajda project,” Pullicino remarked.

The Nationalist Party went on to criticise the government over the delay in publishing the NREAP, when asked for its proposals on how Malta could reach its 2020 targets.

“The Opposition believes that the Government is already 15 months late in publishing its revised NREAP. Until such time that a new NREAP is published for consultation by the Labour government, the NREAP under the PN government remains the only feasible plan to help Malta reach its 2020 targets,” the PN said.

“These targets are less than six years away. The Government’s deafening silence in this respect is proof that Labour’s roadmap on energy was and is still half-baked.”