Enemalta has just admitted responsibility for the blackouts. Why does no one believe them?

The more I think about it today, however... the more I begin to realise that something, somewhere doesn’t quite ‘add up’

You can say what you like about Malta’s only national energy provider, but one thing’s for sure. Whoever writes their press releases is certainly ‘consistent’, about the true causes of power-cuts in Malta.

To put that another way: I’ve been writing in local newspapers ever since around October 1995... and as you can imagine, I have experienced (and written about) many, MANY power outages, in the space of that time.

There was even a phase in my career, when ‘storifying press releases’ was a major part of my daily job. And after each and every single blackout, Enemalta’s press releases would land directly on my desk; whereupon I would simply turn all the most important paragraphs into ‘quotes’; insert all the missing ‘he said/she said, blah-blah-blah’; then toss the finished product into the ‘Subbed/To Print’ folder, along with all the rest of the jun... I mean, ‘important fillers, for the news pages’.

So when I read Enemalta’s press release this week, it almost took me right back to the long, hot summer of 2014: when – as some of you might remember – the entire island experienced an ‘unprecedented’  (at the time) six-hour power-cut on August 12, in temperatures that were almost as hot as today’s.

Obviously, I can’t remember the exact wording, all these years later. But I do recall that the substance of that 2014 Enemalta statement, was IDENTICAL to the one it released last Thursday (after an equally unprecedented spate of blackouts, that left great swathes of the country without electricity for anywhere up to 30 hours... in temperatures of 41, 42+ degrees centigrade.)

Then as now, we were told that the outages were not caused by any ‘insufficiency’, on the part of Malta’s energy-generation capacity (i.e., a combination of the Electrogas power station in Delimara, and the Interconnector), to meet the increased demand of summer heatwaves.

Oh, no: the problem – as Enemalta has consistently told us, over the past decade at least - lies with the ‘distribution network’ instead.

Now: to be fair, the ‘problem’ was not exactly the same in 2014, as it is today. Back then, it was “a damaged cable which caused an explosion at the electricity distribution centre, and automatic shutdown of both power stations”.  Last Thursday, Enemalta CEO Jonathan Cardona clearly said that “the faults are not due to overloads. [...] The national system is capable of providing 830MW [i.e., far more than the current record of ‘624MW during peak hours’]  and we can assure you that overloading is not an issue".

The real issue, he explained, is that “the soaring temperatures have caused roads to heat up, and this heat is bringing out certain latent defects in underground cables.” He even added that: “The cables might have been laid badly. In such a case, nothing would happen at first, but the issue will develop over time.”

Well, this brings me to the first of many things, that have always perplexed me about Enemalta’s consistent reactions to nationwide blackouts.

On both those occasions – 2014 and 2023; and in many others that I remember less clearly – Enemalta’s claims were always met with a spontaneous chorus of derision, scepticism, and downright disbelief.

To quote just one comment (only slightly edited) from our own website this week: “Go pull the other one! Come on, who do you think you’re fooling? It’s glaringly obvious that the power cuts are due to the unsustainable demand of electricity by households, high rise towers and the uglified monster buildings sprouting all over the island!!! Why do these cable faults happen during peak load times?” Etc., etc.

I, too, must admit that I have always been one of those sceptics myself. Just like ‘Old King Cole’, above, I find it suspicious that these occurrences always coincide with ‘sweltering summer heat’; and the simultaneous use of fans, air-conditioners, ice-machines, and God-knows-what-else... as mass-tourism swells an already booming 520,000+ population, to around two million at any one time.

Surely, that must have SOMETHING to do with the fact that summer blackouts have now become so frequent, that you can almost literally predict them just by looking at a barometer?

The more I think about it today, however... the more I begin to realise that something, somewhere doesn’t quite ‘add up’. Let’s start with the scepticism regarding Enemalta’s core claims. And let’s also assume – purely for the sake of argument (in other words: ‘Dear Enemalta, please don’t sue; it’s just an entirely hypothetical suggestion, etc., etc.’) – that the State-owned energy corporation really IS lying, about the true causes of power-cuts in Malta.

The first question that automatic arises, under those circumstances, is... why would Enemalta tell us THAT lie, in particular; and not the other one?

Why would Enemalta keep insisting, over and over again, that the real reason for blackouts has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘overloads’, or ‘power-surges’... but everything to do with ‘faults in the (entirely Enemalta-owned, as far as I am aware) energy distribution network’?

Reason I ask, is that... last I looked, Enemalta was not responsible for the actual power-generation capabilities of the Maltese State. To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t ‘own’ the Delimara power station – on the contrary, it buys its energy from Electrogas; and it subsequently distributes that energy to Maltese households (and businesses, etc.) through a network of ‘cables, pipes, overhead wires, etc.’...

... all of which just happens to be: a) Enemalta’s own property; and b) its own direct responsibility, to maintain and repair. In fact, the very first sentence of its online misson statement is: “Our engineers and technicians are entrusted with the development, maintenance and operation of the national grid which distributes electricity from different sources of power to all our customers in the Maltese Islands.”

And besides: even if it DID own both the Delimara power station, and also the Malta-Sicily Interconnector... Enemalta would still have no direct control, over the precise amount of power either of those infrastructure nodes can physically provide, at any given moment.

Naturally, I can’t give you a technical explanation for this state of affairs. Let’s just say that (to continue an automotive analogy begun by Cardona himself): “you can slam our foot on the accelerator as hard as you like; but if your car can’t exceed a maximum speed of, say, 210kph... well, it just CAN’T! EVER! Full-stop, end of analogy, over-and-out, etc.”

As for the Interconnector: you could, I suppose, always just ‘buy more energy from the European grid’, any old time you like... but then, it becomes a question of ‘spending taxpayer’s money’ – and quite considerable amounts of it too, I would imagine -  and for that sort of thing, you need more than just the authority of a State-owned energy provider.

For that, you need Parliamentary approval.

In other words: if the problem really WERE (as so many people, myself included, have always believed) down to ‘insufficient power-generation, to meet the summer demand’... then the responsibility for the latest blackouts would fall squarely onto the shoulders of government itself.

As far as I can see, then, this leads us to conclude that Enemalta CEO Jonathan Cardona is candidly admitting to us, above, that his own corporation is directly responsible for what he himself defines as the ‘sole cause’ of the latest power-cuts [Note: and, indirectly, also for past similar ones].

In so doing, he is also opening his own corporation up to a rather large slew of ‘compensation claims’, by irate Maltese families who have incurred not-inconsiderable financial  losses... especially considering that Cardona himself also separately admits that ‘[some of] the cables might have been laid badly’.

Naturally, I am aware that Enemalta also has an automatic trump-card up its sleeve, in such cases. As chairman Ryan Fava told this newspaper yesterday: “the Enemalta compensation scheme will be available to consumers impacted by the power outages. However, [...] this scheme largely applies to fixed assets. Consumers whose food went bad in the fridge or freezer would not be able to get compensation for this...”

All the same, however: the offer of compensation is undeniably on the table... and Energy Minister Miriam Dalli even added weight to it, by ‘not excluding the possibility of government offering additional compensation to people who bore the brunt of the latest power cuts.”

But then, this only raises a whole bunch of additional questions, such as:

If Enemalta owns (and is responsible for) the entire energy distribution network... it doesn’t exactly own the road-networks under which those cables and wires are buried, does it?

So if it can be demonstrated that some of those faults might have actually been caused by ROADS – not ‘cables’ – that were ‘badly laid (or ‘constructed’, or whatever)... wouldn’t that also imply that Infrastructure Malta, Transport Malta, the Infrastructure Ministry - and all the other agencies/regulatory authorities involved in ‘road planning’: including, presumably, the PA – are all also ‘responsible’, in part, for the same power outages?

And if so... can all those other entities be sued for compensation, too? And where would it all even stop, anyway?

I don’t know, to be honest. But something tells me that this abnormal summer heat may have done slightly more, than just ‘melt a few badly-laid underground cables’, here and there.

Something tells me it might also have opened up an entire ‘Pandora’s Box’, of sizzling proportions, that has been smouldering quietly beneath the surface for decades...