Raw deal not green: why Malta is missing in action

No wonder Malta lingers at the bottom of renewable energy efforts in Europe. The PN pledge to address with urgency this situation responds to a need for a more sustainable economy where we pay more than lip service to the environment

A great chunk of our domestic energy needs in Malta go for heating and cooling of buildings
A great chunk of our domestic energy needs in Malta go for heating and cooling of buildings

While Europe drives the Green Deal and a multi-billion EU budget of investments to protect our environment and promote lifestyles in synch with nature, here in Malta we learn how the government is selling all of us its raw deal on renewable energy tariffs.

Thousands of households have invested in photovoltaic panels to find that they are selling on the cheap and buying on the high.

On a home visit this week, I saw with my own eyes how a large family in Mosta spent €7,000 on photovoltaic panels, thinking that the investment will pay off in a few years. Their energy meters indeed speak of a sound investment as they show energy generation covering more than half their consumption. Technically, therefore, that was clearly a good deal.

The bills however speak of another kind of deal. This family’s consumption is being charged at up to 34c per unit due to their exceeding the first consumption brackets, while their energy production from the public utility is paid at a meagre 7c per unit. For part of the consumption there is therefore a 27 cents difference between what government buys and what government sells.

Were it cigarettes or alcohol you would say that this pricing is promoting a public policy. But given that this is the price paid back for renewable energy, then it is a pricing policy with the most perverse outcome. No wonder Malta lingers at the bottom of the graph of renewable energy efforts in Europe. The Nationalist Party’s pledge to address with urgency this situation is hence, not only addressing a gross injustice with those who were lured into investing in solar, but responds to a need for a more sustainable economy where we pay more than lip service to the environment.

Another matter on a different chapter but pointing to the same set of warped priorities is Malta’s ‘progress’ with energy performance in buildings. This week I visited my cognate relatives in the south of Malta, I took a seat in the outer room with the imperative social distance. My kunjata’s home, like virtually all homes in our village cores, will get you shivering after a few minutes on most winter days. On occasion, it is warmer outside than it is inside. Our globigerina is definitely a builder’s paradise due to its soft and malleable characteristics but it is certainly not a prizewinner for keeping homes warm in winter. Our home-grown alternative to the ‘kantun’ is even worse. The immensely ‘popular’ local brick, rising to 4 or 5 stories in villages everywhere nowadays is also not ideal to insulate our homes from heat loss in winter and heat built up in Summer.

A great chunk of our domestic energy needs in Malta go for heating and cooling of buildings. Same goes for Europe. In fact in 2010 a specific Directive on Energy Performance in Buildings was adopted and further amended in 2018. EU funding is also available to achieve the objectives of the Directive.

But while the rest of Europe launches schemes for citizen’s participation in this drive, Malta is missing in action. Households from Belgium to Spain and elsewhere in the continent are now receiving grants to insulate their homes to limit heat loss.

In Malta, we did our bit to ‘formally’ implement the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive – yes we introduced a mandatory EPC certificate which is an imperative step to sell or buy a house. We did check our box of ‘formal’ compliance, and that’s it. The four-storey brick developments are going up just as they were before the Directive – the national performance on the reduction of greenhouse gases as well.

Plastic recycling, waste separation and air quality targets respond to similar trends as described above. So, one would need to ask, why is this? What is the root of this malaise? Well, I hate to be critical all the way. Sometimes I would wish to fill these columns with praise of vision for politicians – inspiring us, leading the way for a more sustainable economy. The thing is that when priorities are based on wrong precepts it is hard for the drivers of those priorities to drive you in the right direction.

And the precepts and priorities can be detected from the bigger picture I described above, with Malta becoming the laggard of Europe on environmental matters, as much as they can be taken from the smaller things, which demonstrate attitude. One such attitude I can see in a very beautiful development of late. Passing from the new bypass from Marsa to Santa Venera one could admire the new green wall brimming with nice plants of all kinds of leaf and colour. That initiative was brilliant, at least it looks so right now. I guess that it will need almost daily watering in summer due to the small size of the containers, but let’s not go there. My point here is that our decision-makers right now are very good at coming up with brilliant PR initiatives when it comes to our environment, but they fail dramatically when it comes to guiding this nation for longer-term targets.

The Marsa Green Wall was easy to implement and gives you a constant advert to all passing by, apart for the 10 minutes fame on TV to launch. The energy performance of buildings and the tariffs on solar panels don’t deliver that kind of PR. So while the latter are fundamental for Malta to move in the path of sustainability for our kids and ourselves, they are neglected, treated as second priority if a priority at all. This is clearly a case of governing by PR. Enjoy the show!