Wind power would help Malta reach EU targets

Even though it has great potential for solar and wind power, Malta produces almost all its electricity using oil, importing 100% of it. The RES-E target set by the EU Directive for Malta is 5% of gross electricity consumption in 2010. However, at the national level, it has been decided to aim for 0.31%, excluding large wind farms and waste combustion plants, or for 1.31% in the event that the plans for a landbased wind farm are implemented.

Electricity from RES: RES-E in Malta is close to non-existent. The only renewable source currently used to generate electricity is solar energy. The level of production stood at 0.01 GWh in 2004. Since 2005, six new installations generating around 14 MWh per year were

Resources Minister George Pullicino said that the 18-20 wind turbines at Sikka l-Bajda (together with those at Hal Far and Bahrija) would generate close to 40 percent of the clean energy Malta needed to reach the 2020 EU-imposed targets.

The EU stipulates that by that deadline 20 percent of the energy Malta generated had to come from clean renewable sources.

The minister was speaking at the launch of a wind monitoring mast at L-Ahrax which would create a wind profile of the area around Sikka l-Bajda, by measuring wind speed and direction, to see whether the offshore wind farm was feasible.

Mr Pullicino pointed out that wind monitoring would also take place in Bahrija and Hal Far, the other two smaller proposed sites for onshore farms.

In Hal Far, a mast similar to the one in Mellieha would be installed, whereas in Bahrija use would be made of the telecommunication poles already there.

The government was also working on a number of other renewable energy projects including solar panelling on public buildings, domestic and industrial schemes to incentivise wind energy and solar as well as energy from waste.

The monitoring mast, which received the planning authority’s seal of approval last week, stands on its own weight and did not require any drilling for it to be installed.

The mast cost €150,000, a figure which prompted Mr Pullicino to point out that although renewable energy came at a cost, fossil fuels came at an even greater cost because of the pollution they generated.

He said that the €300 million investment for the wind farm would be private and not paid for by the taxpayer.

The mast is equipped with some 17 small wind vanes which will record the wind’s power and velocity from different directions and at different altitudes. The monitoring mast is also a precursor of the actual wind turbines that would hopefully be installed.

The area is to be fenced off in the coming days.

"We would have done all we could within our limitations but if this does not work out we will have to wait for better technology for deep offshore wind farms so that we can start to exploit it," Mr Pullicino said.

He pointed out that Sikka l-Bajda was Malta’s only shallow reef, big enough for an offshore wind farm.

Malta is surrounded by deep sea, so once the technology improves we would have no problems to set up offshore wind farms, including floating ones, according to Mr Pullicino.

"The problem at the moment is that the technology for deep sea wind farms is still very expensive and it is not proven. We cannot be guinea pigs. The kind of wind farms we are looking at are off the shelf," he said.

In 2006, the government had said it wanted to pursue a deep water offshore wind farm after Sikka l-Bajda was discarded because of "enormous visual and other impacts". Eventually, however, the deep water project was ditched because the technology was not advanced enough.

Mr Pullicino pointed out that wind monitoring would also take place in the other two smaller proposed sites for onshore farms, that is, Ba©¤rija and ¨¤al Far.

He said Malta was limited for space partly because of the high population density but also because the land that was available was generally of environmental or historic importance and, therefore, could not be touched.

Mr Pullicino added that, together with the two-year wind monitoring campaign, the ministry also had to study the reef itself to ensure that the ecosystem was not too sensitive for the development. The monitoring mast, which received the planning authority’s seal of approval last week, stands on its own weight and did not require any drilling for it to be installed.

It is supported by strong ropes decorated with red markers to reduce bird collisions, following Birdlife Malta’s warning that the area is populated by Shearwaters.

Geothermal, solar, tide and wave energy are all considered viable alternative energy sources. The government’s favoured approach at this stage is to build wind farms. It plans three in all, two on land and the one, by far the largest, offshore, at a total cost of more than €300 million.

In some ways it a forced move. But there’s nothing like the fear of missing a deadline to elicit action. By 2020, Malta needs to meet its EU obligations whereby at least 10 per cent of local electrical energy production would come from renewable energy sources, in parallel with cutting down on CO2 emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by the same year.

The Prime Minister has warned that unless we conform to these obligations Malta will pay a heavy economic price. The absolute need to meet these targets had apparently prompted the government to change tack and abandon its previous preferred option of deep-sea technology wind farms because this technology has recently made little progress.

Generally, the reaction to the government’s wind farm plan was positive when it was first announced a few months ago, both environmentally and politically. Labour and Alternattiva Demokratika are in favour of wind power in principle, the latter having long proclaimed the need to go down this path.

Understandably, given how Malta dragged its feet for so long, there is a degree of scepticism on whether it will be generating the needed amount of electricity from alternative sources in just over a decade, EU targets or not. But at least things now seem to be moving.

To be successful, it also needs to involve all interested parties, ranging from environmentalists to political parties, academics to local councils. The Mott MacDonald report commissioned by the government in 2005 clearly recommended the continued involvement, consultation and education of the public regarding the introduction of any system that in some way impacts their daily lives.

The adoption of alternative energy technology should not be a sporadic effort motivated by looming deadlines but a continuous, transparent process that keeps the public informed of developments.