Alice and the pleasure cruise ship
“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, no more no less” says Humpty Dumpty and Alice aptly replies: “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things”. And so goes the Alice in Wonderland power station issue.
The LNG tanker has finally made it to Marsaxlokk Bay, even if the government is still not in a position to commit itself to a date on which it will put this huge floating storage facility to its intended use.
The need for a new gas-fired power station took centre stage during the last general election campaign. It was part of Labour’s new energy policy which was unveiled with much pomp and catapulted Konrad Mizzi to star candidate status. The perfectly timed leaks, to friendly press, of corruption at Enemalta’s oil procurement division created the perfect scenario for Labour to launch the new energy proposals that would deliver cheaper and cleaner electricity in just two short years, with a commitment by Joseph Muscat to resign if this failed to materialise. The then brand new BWSC fossil oil-powered power station was dubbed a ‘cancer factory’ and the high price citizens were paying for the former government’s corruption. It has to be said that it is not as if any minister had been implicated in the scandal. If anything, there were government-appointed officials together with – amongst others – Labour’s main energy consultant who were immediately handed over to the police for serious investigation. But the hammering home of Labour’s message inflicted maximum damage on the Nationalist government’s credibility. A majority of 36,000 votes and three years later, the tables have turned and there is good reason why.
Clean air and dirty lies
In one of 2013’s major election campaign stunts, Joseph Muscat, the then Leader of the Opposition, assured a grandmother who had lost three relatives to cancer that his new government will close the “cancer factory “in Delimara and will install a gas-powered for cleaner air instead. To support Muscat’s outlandish claim, he misquoted a respected oncologist who immediately refuted the claim that his study was related in any way to the power station. But little did this matter to Muscat, who nonetheless kept repeating the new power station clean air mantra. Not many noticed then, but Muscat was ushering Malta into the post-truth political era, in which propaganda takes a life of its own with total disregard for the truth.
Only a year later, a Mepa report joined the oncologist in refuting Joseph Muscat’s claim, finding that there had been no deterioration of air quality in the Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia area since the new BWSC generator had been commissioned. But Muscat simply dismissed these scientific claims with a “Go and ask the residents” reply.
Three years later – that is, a few weeks ago – the National Statistics Office has provided statistics confirming that, since the installation of the two Gonzi administration projects, the BWSC power station and the interconnector, emissions and air pollution have been reduced by a staggering 60 per cent. At the same time it is reported that emissions due to an increase in traffic congestion have risen by 10 per cent. This time Muscat, replies by taking credit for the closing down of the old Marsa power station but, of course, this has only been made possible by the huge investment in the BWSC plant and the interconnector made by the previous nationalist administration.
Cheap electricity and cheaper tricks
By avoiding journalists by escaping through back doors – as he did recently – Muscat not only fails to admit the outrageous ‘cancer factory’ lie but also fails to provide an adequate justification for the need for a new power station. One might argue that there is a second part to the pre-election mantra of clean energy: cheap prices for the consumer.
But by now we all know that international oil prices are but a third of what they were three years ago. And by now we all know that the BWSC power station has not only made possible cleaner energy, as confirmed by the NSO, but its efficiency has saved the government no less than €1 million a week, savings of which only half have been passed on to the consumer. This cleaner and cheaper way of generating energy has since been sold to private interests. By now we also know for a fact that prices per unit from the interconnector are 30 per cent to 60 per cent less than those from the privatised Electrogas. No wonder the government is buying 70 per cent of its energy requirements from the interconnector. But, once again, one wonders why this favourable price has not been translated into more favourable rates for the consumer.
With all the information available, the only conclusion is that
the current energy costs regime is a ripoff. It is evident that the price reduction should have been much greater than it actually was. Similarly, the reduction in energy costs to be announced shortly should not only be much greater but should also have been introduced much earlier. In addition to this, in no way can this fall in price be attributed to the gas tanker or any of Labour’s energy policies. In fact, quite the opposite is true: this cheaper and cleaner energy is attributable to lower oil prices and the sterling work done by the Nationalist government during the previous legislature.
The beautiful south and the ugly monster of Marsaxlokk
Previous Labour administrations have been vociferous about the visual effects of the Delimara power station chimney – as they were about anything in the south introduced by the Nationalist Party, including the modernisation of an EU-funded recycling plant and the Freeport, which generated hundreds of good-quality jobs. Of course, the residents are concerned about the host of risks and hazards affecting the environment, health and safety and property value.
So it is impossible to fathom why and how it had to be Labour who installed this ugly, aging massive storage structure – as big as three football pitches and storing up to 140,000 cubic metres of LNG gas – right in the middle of Marsaxlokk Bay and right in the faces of the residents of the beautiful south.
Let’s face it, this ugly monster is not only no sight for sore eyes but it also poses certain risks that only such a huge storage facility can pose. And while beauty may lie in the eyes of the beholder, there is no way that one can compare Labour’s Marsaxlokk tanker to the cruise liners berthing in Valletta’s Grand Harbour.
A monument to corruption
So if we already have the possibility of cleaner and cheaper energy production, why on earth did the government lumber the residents of Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia with that monster for the next 18 years? Why wait three whole years to start geological testing for the construction of a gas pipeline between Malta and Sicily, which is a much safer option and one envisaged by the previous Nationalist administration? Why on earth lumber the rest of the population with a fixed price “take or pay deal” that will result in us being contractually obliged to buy energy at higher prices even when, as now, we can find cheaper prices elsewhere? Why give away our country’s energy sovereignty through privatisation while taking on the burden of all the health and safety and financial risks?
There is no logic in this. The massive tanker deal simply stinks. That is why Simon Busuttil will defiantly refute this dirty deal and make a commitment to buy energy from where it is cheapest, once in government. That is why today we are protesting in Marsaxlokk.