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.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Clyde Puli

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.

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