Will Malta end up having to go ‘nuclear’?

By now it should be painfully obvious that – in practice – Malta CANNOT possibly ever hope to produce even a fraction of the energy it would require, to achieve all the above, though ‘renewable sources’ alone

File photo
File photo

Recently, The Times carried a rather strange article under the heading: “Renewable energy ‘needed soon’ to prevent increase in prices”.

Not, mind you, that there was anything particularly ‘strange’ about how it was written. Actually, I thought Mark Zammit Lawrence did quite a decent job of synthesizing all the information – from here and from there – and then hammering it all together into a logical, coherent whole.

It's just that... well, the information it contains doesn’t seem to make much sense, that’s all. So let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The very first thing we are told is that: “Businesses and families risk getting hit with high energy prices if Malta does not increase its sources of renewable energy soon, and the EU forces the government to end blanket subsidies on consumption next year...”

Almost immediately, then, we are faced with a slight ambiguity. Anyone reading that sentence, stripped of any real context, would be forgiven for thinking one of two things.

The first is that there must be some kind of ‘correlation’ between Malta’s international obligations to ‘increase its renewable energy sector’; and the pressure that the government is undeniably under – from the EU (and in particular, the IMF) – to ‘end its subsidies in the energy sector’.

In other words: unless Malta somehow ‘increases its sources of renewable energy’ – and fast, too! - the EU will ‘force the government to end its energy subsidies’... and naturally, this would result in the price of energy dramatically shooting up (as it has everywhere else in Europe).

But that, of course, is patently ridiculous. The reality is that the EU is pressuring Malta to remove those subsidies, regardless of whether we ‘increase our levels of renewable energy’, or not. In fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘renewables’, at all... but plenty to do with (as the article itself goes on to explain) the Maastricht Criteria, and the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact.

Simply put: Malta is compelled by European law to keep its deficit to within 3% of its GDP... or else, face ‘excessive deficit procedures’. As such, the only actual concern expressed by the IMF, was to the effect that: “Malta is spending more than €400m annually in subsidies to cushion the cost of energy. That is pushing the national deficit beyond the EU-set limit.”

But, well, this is where the ‘strangeness’ starts to set in. For just a little further down the same article, we are also told that: “This year alone the government is expected to spend around €400 million to subsidise energy and food prices, in a bid to save businesses and keep the economy growing as it recovers from the pandemic.”

And, more significantly, that: “It appears the strategy is working. In a credit rating report released last week, Fitch confirmed Malta’s A+ score, saying the economy was stable and growing, and the country was managing to REDUCE PUBLIC DEBT.’ [my emphasis]

Got that, folks? It turns out that – despite spending 400 million a year on energy and food subsidies – Malta has somehow managed to not only ‘keep its deficit to within the 3% limit, set by the EU’... but it actually ‘grew its economy’, while simultaneously also ‘reducing its debt’.

So can anyone explain to me WHY, exactly, we are even under so much ‘pressure’ to remove those subsidies, in the first place? And what is so very ‘objectionable’, about a government choosing to spend 400 million a year, to ‘save local businesses’... at a time when Malta can very clearly afford this measure (as attested by its continued economic growth): and especially, when – for a change – we’re not even in breach of the EU’s dratted Maastricht Criteria, to begin with?

Like I said earlier: it doesn’t make very much sense, does it? It is almost though the EU – and especially, the IMF – is trying to force Malta into removing a highly successful (and hugely necessary) socially-conscious measure... for no particular reason, under the sun.

[Unless, of course, you include the argument that such subsidies are, by definition, ‘unsustainable’... in which case: it should really be up to us – as the taxpayers who are funding (and benefitting from) this particular initiative – to decide when, and under what circumstances, to eventually put a stop to it. Just saying...)

But tell you what: let’s leave that observation dangling there, for now... and get back to the ‘renewable energy’ part.

While all this has been quietly chugging away in the background: Malta is also under intense pressure – independently of the subsidies issue, this time – to ‘increase its renewable energy sources’, in order to meet all its international targets of becoming ‘fully carbon neutral, by 2050’.

And this brings us to the second (intended, this time) interpretation: i.e., that Malta happens to be under pressure to remove its energy subsidies, anyway; and also, to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, for purely environmental reasons.... so... why not just ‘kill two birds with one stone?’

And from that perspective: ‘increasing renewable energy sources’ does indeed become one of many possible strategies, through which the Maltese government could try and avoid – or at least, minimise – any sudden ‘economic shocks’.

Not only does does this represent a much more logical, and sensible, appraisal of the situation: but – in theory, at least - it’s actually true, you know.

Yes, indeed: Malta COULD conceivably ‘cushion itself’ from any future price-hikes... if only it could find a way of replacing around 80% of the energy it currently imports (through a combination of the interconnector, and the Electrogas deal with Azerbaijan), with ‘energy derived from renewable sources’...

... and even then, if it could also somehow find an alternative method of providing for around 60% of all its currents fresh water needs: without relying on (highly energy-guzzling) technologies such as ‘Reverse Osmosis’.

I could go on, of course. Yes, I imagine that our electricity bills would also reduce drastically, from one second to the next: if we were to miraculously stumble upon a way of actually producing enough energy – through sources such as wind-turbines, and solar-panels – to service at least a respectable percentage of Malta’s actual energy-requirements, as a growing nation with a population of over half-a-million (and which, to cap it all, also hopes to attract ‘5 million tourists a year’!)

But let’s face it: there wouldn’t be much point, would there? Because by now it should be painfully obvious that – in practice – Malta CANNOT possibly ever hope to produce even a fraction of the energy it would require, to achieve all the above, though ‘renewable sources’ alone...

... or at least: not if the plan remains (as it has always been, up to this point) to base our national energy policy, only on renewables such as wind- and solar energy...

... and not, say, on some of the other technologies (‘renewable’, or otherwise) that – by an amazing coincidence – the same EU is also trying to pressure us all into accepting, even as we speak!

And, oh look: just two days after the article I’ve been quoting was published – on 30 March, to be precise - the European Parliament announced an ‘agreement in the field of renewable energy’: which now includes ‘biomass/bioenergy’, ‘hydrogen’ and ‘nuclear power’ on the list of recommended renewable energy sources.

Now: I’ve left myself with too little space, for a full explanation of why those three particular options would be hopelessly ‘impractical’, in the local context...

... but here goes anyway:

1) ‘biomass/bioenergy’ involves the mass-production of combustible organic material – including ‘manure’; and even, believe it or not, ‘wood’ – to be burnt, just like coal, in generators. But without even going into all the environmental ‘pros’ and ‘cons’: the one thing it would need, to function in practice, is the one thing we simply do not have. Acres, and acres, and acres, of ‘open space’...

2) Hydrogen. This is the technology favoured by Germany –which separately explains why the European Commission is already pressuring Malta to re-convert its Delimara power-station (for the umpteenth time) to be able to run on ‘hydrogen’ instead of ‘natural gas’...

... and leaving aside that it is not really ‘renewable’, anyway (it requires energy produced from either fossil fuels, or nuclear plants, to even function at all): for a wide variety of reasons, Malta would never realistically be able to generate its own electricity, from local ‘hydrogen plants’...

... but would have to ‘import it from Germany’ instead (as, presumably, was all along part of the European Commission’s ‘cunning plan’.)

This leaves us with option three (favoured by France, this time): ‘nuclear’... which, on one level, is by far the ‘scariest’ of the lot... but, on another level entirely: it is arguably the only one that Malta COULD realistically resort to, for its own energy production, at any time in the near future. (All it would take, on the logistical front, is a simple ‘re-conversion’ of the existing Delimara plant, to run on imported Uranium instead of natural gas.)

And given also that the same article states: “the government must persuade the European Commission that it will have new sources of energy in place OVER THE FOLLOWING FEW MONTHS AND YEARS” [my emphasis, again...]

... well, it sort of implies that that earlier (incorrect) interpretation, might not have been so far off the mark, after all. To me, it looks a lot like the European Union really IS using those ‘energy subsidies’, as leverage to force Malta into changing its energy infrastructure... and even then, to accommodate ‘new technologies’ that:

a) are clearly not in our own interests to tamper with (though it would, of course, be hugely profitable for German and French corporations); and

b) remain, to this day, rather ‘unclear’. (Or was that ‘nuclear’? But never mind, you get the point...)