Going through the motions in Malta -- Some offshore effort

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The government of Malta has opted for offshore wind power development rather than building wind turbines on land or near-shore as part of its strategy to reduce the country's dependency on imported fossil fuels. In a national energy policy paper under discussion, the government recognises that renewable energy sources are the "long term option of choice" and that wind power and solar energy are the most viable.

It also acknowledges that onshore and near-shore wind plant represent the most cost effective option, but rejects both on the grounds of their "high visual and landscape impacts" and because of the islands' high population density. The Malta tourism authority is also concerned that near-shore development will have a negative impact on tourism. As a result, the government is looking at a 75-100 MW development six kilometres off the coast in water 50-100 metres deep.

Others argue that there are onshore sites that could be developed more cheaply and quickly, particularly on the sparsely inhabited west side of Malta, and that the technology is not yet available for developing such deep-water sites. Some, more cynically, say the government put forward the proposal to appear to be doing something, but in reality deep water offshore development will prove far too expensive and difficult. "The government's reluctance and lack of enthusiasm for exploiting renewable energy is palpable," says Ralph Cassar of the opposition Green Party.

Nevertheless, the regulatory body, the Malta Resources Authority (MRA), has identified a number of potential offshore sites and in August invited expressions of interest in bidding for the project. Nine international consortia responded, mainly based in Germany and the Netherlands: Prokon Nord, Mammoet Van Dord, Van Dord Dredging and Marine, Sun Energy Ltd, Salv. Bezzina and Sons Ltd; R. S. Design Association on behalf of Hofer Handel and Financing; Innovative Energy; AX Holdings and Ballast & Needham Offshore Energy; Evelop Netherlands; SLP Energy/Malta Shipyards; Blue H. Technologies BV; WPD AG Bremen; and FNI Consortium comprising Falzon Group, Nordex Energy and Impetus. The MRA is making up a shortlist of those who will be invited to bid.

The project cost is estimated at EUR 150 million. It will be managed as a public-private partnership in which the developers finance, build and operate the plant, while the government provides the site concession. State network operator Enemalta will buy the output at a fixed price, yet to be agreed. When, or if, completed, it will generate up to 10% of Malta's electricity needs. Malta's electricity is generated by two oil and gas fuelled power stations with a combined capacity of 571 MW.

To accommodate an extra 100 MW on the islands' small, isolated network, there are plans for a cable link to mainland Europe via Sicily, costing in the region of EUR 130 million; the link will also provide greater security of supply. Although Malta is an EU member, for the moment it is not required to establish targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The government has, however, calculated how much electricity it could potentially generate from renewables in 2010. It estimates the potential for large scale wind plants at 30 GWh and 1.5 GWh for medium size plant.

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