[WATCH] Second nationwide blackout blamed on interconnector, minister: ‘I apologise’

Second power cut of 2017 leaves Mizzi “disappointed... I apologise” • Commissioning of gas power plant to start in coming days, will be fully operational by summer

Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi addresses a morning press briefing on major power cuts (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi addresses a morning press briefing on major power cuts (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Mizzi: Interconnector fault caused second nationwide blackout

A nationwide blackout that plunged Malta and Gozo in darkness during the night was caused by a fault in the interconnector on the Sicilian end, minister Konrad Mizzi said today.

The minister, who retains responsibility for the energy portfolio despite a demotion over the Panama Papers scandal, apologise for the power cut, saying he was disappointed. Flanked by Enemalta executive chairman Fredrick Azzopardi, Mizzi held a media briefing to explain the cause of two major power cuts in less than seven hours.

“Both power cuts were caused by the fault the interconnector experienced in Ragusa,” Mizzi said.

He announced that the gas power plant, Labour’s energy pledge, is set to start operating in the coming days, switching the bulk of use from the interconnector onto the new power station. “The interconnector will be used when required and when it is more cost-effective than the gas-fired power plant,” he said.

Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

Mizzi however reiterated that the power cuts proved that security of supply was of vital importance – although the island is now depending in the main on the cheaper electricity supply from the interconnector instead of the oil-fired Delimara power station.

Circuit breaker trips causing interconnector to shut down

The first alarm indicating there was a problem on the company’s system in Ragusa was registered at 10:15pm on Monday, followed by a second alarm at 1:39am when  a circuit breaker at the Terna station tripped, switching off the system in Ragusa and the interconnector.

At the moment of the power cut, the interconnector was supplying 132MW of electricity with an additional 58MW from Delimara 1. The complete shutdown of the interconnector was registered at 1:43am, four minutes after Delimara 1 lost half of its supply.

At 2:59am, Enemalta starting switching on its emergency gas turbines, with electricity being resupplied to the local grid at 3:09am.

Meanwhile, Italian engineers turned up at the Terna station at 3:30am and the interconnector was turned on again at 3:40am. Full synchronisation was completed at 4:30am and Malta was reconnected to the Italian grid. Full provision was reached at 5:35am.

But at 8:30am, Enemalta lost half the grid load again because the interconnector was once again switched off in Sicily.

Enemalta engineers will now be travelling to Sicily as the company is now looking into why the interconnector was switched off twice in a few hours. Initial reports suggest that some water may have entered the Ragusa station and damaged some Enemalta equipment – the Maghtab Terminal Station in Malta links directly to the Ragusa Terminal.

“At the moment we are keeping the load on the interconnector as low as possible,” Azzopardi said. “First reports indicate that some stormwater may have entered the Ragusa station, causing the Enemalta circuit breaker to trip. It is as yet unclear if any damage has been sustained.”

When asked when specifically the new plant would be operational, he said that the Delimara 4 plant was already operational and was currently undergoing intensive ‘hot-testing’.

“We calculate this testing will take some weeks to ensure the plant is safe to operate at full capacity.”

Azzopardi stressed that the interconnector supply was vulnerable to damage and interruption, leaving the country susceptible to further power cuts until the Delimara 4 starts operating at capacity.

He confirmed that – until the new LNG plant became fully operational at its maximum output capacity – the Marsa power station would possibly need to be turned on in the case of extensive interruption to the interconnector supply.

No fixed formula will be used to determine the load spread chosen to provide electricity, even once the Delimara 4 becomes fully operational.

Instead, the most commercially advantageous load distribution – spread across the interconnector, the new LNG Plant and the Delimara 3 BWSC plant (which will be converted to gas) – would be chosen.

Mizzi also confirmed that a Belgian company was currently studying the best route for a gas pipeline between Malta and Sicily.

He said the study would be completed by the summer, but would not commit himself to a completion date for the project.


Enemalta is investigating the cause of a power cut after residents across Malta and Gozo were left without electricity for a period of four hours in the early hours of this morning. A second power cut hit several localities, including in Naxxar, the San Gwann area and the south of Malta, at 8.30am.

In a fourth statement this morning, Enemalta said the second cut was caused by a disruption in the electricity supply through the Malta-Italy interconnector.

Adding to the morning chaos was also gridlocked traffic which is being reported across major road networks. Reports reaching this newsroom point towards motorists spending no less than an hour and a half stuck in traffic... and counting.

This is the second power cut in the span of one month. After the last power cut, which took place on 16 January, Enemalta blamed the severe storm as the cause of the black out, saying that the interconnector had been providing 75% when it cut off from the grid.