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MEPA turns down Sikka l-Bajda wind farm

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has turned down the application presented by the previous government in 2009, for the development of a wind farm at is-Sikka l-Bajda that would have produced between 3.5% and 5.5% of Malta’s energy needs and more than half of Malta’s 10% renewable energy targets.

Nationalist MP and MEPA board member Ryan Callus was the only member to vote against the recommended refusal on the project.

Former environment minister George Pullicino insisted during the meeting that discarding the project meant that Malta would be renouncing on the 10% target.

The project was already recommended for refusal by MEPA’s planning directorate. The approval of project would have meant that Malta would have had to invoke an overriding public interest to justify the breach of the EU’s Habitats Directive.

The environment impact assessment into the farm project was never published.

MEPA chairman Vince Cassar noted that the ministry for energy, which took over the project’s application, was not objecting to the recommended refusal.

Ministry official Simon Scicluna said that the government was already prepared for a refusal and had embarked on a ‘plan b’ to meet targets on renewable energy, but these plans were not specified.

The Sikka l-Bajda site had been chosen by consultants Mott McDonald. AIS Consultants’ Dr Joe Doublet explained that the impact on bird and bat populations and marine habitats like posidonia meadows. The study concluded that turbines would disturb shearwater populations. Lighting and fog-horns would be the main cause of disturbance.

The project would have had no impact on water quality and impacts on geology could be mitigated. Since the 160m height of each turbine was higher than the Portomaso tower, the project would have had a significant visual impact.

Former minister George Pullicino intervened, criticising the government for not revising its renewable energy target.

“From where will Malta get its RE to reach its targets?” he asked, referring to the fact that MEPA’s own solar energy policy provided for only one-third of the target.

He also noted the absence of leading researcher Dr Tonio Sant, whom he said had led the project but was not even informed of the MEPA meeting.

“Malta will pay fines for failing to reach its RE targets,” Pullicino warned.

Pullicino asked the authors of the EIA for further details on bird studies and the altitude at which these birds flew.

Pullicino argued that the main objection to the project was that on bird populations, adding that the site in question was already used by oil tankers for bunkering purposes, a process he said already impacted upon the seabed. “How come birds are impacted by turbines and not by tankers?” Pullicino asked.

He added that bunkering activities by the 17 tankers in the area, which he said were some 50 metres high, had a worse impact on the environment. “There is barely any reference to bunkering in studies,” Pullicino said, adding that the original EIA recommended placing one turbine to assess any impact on birds.

On his part, AIS’s Joe Doublet confirmed that bunkering had an impact on bird populations but insisted that turbines erected for 25 years would have a greater impact than ships.