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More still needs to be done for Malta to hit its targets on energy

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Malta is one of a few European states encountering difficulties to reach its set energy targets, and to achieve its goals it needs to take additional measures, according to the EU Climate Action Commissioner.

Solar energy is a plentiful source in Malta and there is a lot that can be done...

Commissioner Connie Hedegaard believes the EU as a whole is “on track” to achieving its targets, in­cluding that of reducing its energy consumption by 20 per cent by 2020.

According to an agreement reached a few years ago, Malta must produce 10 per cent of its total energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Estimates released recently by the National Audit Office show it faces stiff penalties of between €2.9 million and €36 million if it fails to meet this target.

“I know how challenging it is. You are finding difficulties in choosing where to put wind turbines, where to place solar panels, how to save more energy,” she said in an interview with The Times, during her short visit to Malta where she met ministers, businesses and NGOs.

“I can see that the government is working on all these issues and is moving ahead. But more still needs to be done for Malta to reach its targets. Solar energy is a plentiful resource in Malta and there is a lot that can be done. The advantage of this is that the price of solar panels is coming down significantly so the payback time is cut drastically. There is potential in this and improve­­ments have been very strong,” she said.

She noted how the EU spent €315 billion to import oil last year, adding that more needed to be done to reduce oil consumption and overall energy consumption.

“Let’s put it into perspective. This is almost as much money as the entire Greek debt. It is clear that if we can reduce bills weighing down on our macroeconomics in Europe and invest more in energy-efficient solutions, we can create jobs in the short term and improve the economic situation in the longer term. This is why we are addressing energy efficiency much more systematically in all our member states,” she said.

Ms Hedegaard is the first EU Commissioner for Climate Action tasked with mainstreaming climate into various policy issues, including transport, research and agriculture.

Asked about the concentration of 300,000 cars for just over 400,000 people in Malta, Ms Hedegaard made the case for electric vehicles and joked: “Only babies don’t have a car in Malta”.

“There is enormous potential in electric cars. The short distances make them ideal. How many Maltese would drive more than 100 kilometres a day? Electric cars are the best choice and it is relatively easy to invest in the infrastructure to charge them,” she said.

Turning to water and the energy-draining reverse osmosis plants which desalinate sea water and provide it to households, Ms Hedegaard said such technologies were improving and becoming even more energy-efficient. This had been taken into consideration when the targets were set.

She mentioned the storm water catchment project which is partly funded by the EU. Using water resources more efficiently was key, she said, and much more resource efficiency was required by the EU.

“I thought it was very interesting to hear how Malta moved away from subsidising the cost of water and electricity. When people start to pay the true cost, it is easier to become aware of how much they are actually consuming,” she said.

“I come from Denmark where we managed to reduce water consumption each year through more awareness.

“These are small changes that make a big difference.”

She said it was easy for politicians to set up the framework but in the end, citizens had to take the responsibility and be more conscious of the daily choices they made: be it on water and electricity, choosing an economical car, buying certain products over others at the supermarket and looking at energy labels before buying appliances.

“We have to make sure there is the right labelling for people to be able to make the right choice.”

Ms Hedegaard would not be drawn into the controversy surrounding the choice of using heavy fuel oil over gas at the new Delimara power station plant extension, saying she knew “very little” about this project.

“What I do know is that this extension will improve energy efficiency.”

Regarding to interconnector linking Malta to the European energy grid, Ms Hedegaard said this was a very important link for Malta and for Europe.

The next EU budget was trying to place a heavier emphasis on interconnectors because if member states were going to have a larger percentage of renewable energy, an exchange had to be enabled from one part of Europe to another.

“I think this is part of the recipe to have a more sustainable Europe.

“We do not see energy policies for national politicians but as a European thing where we think across our borders and find the most efficient solutions.”

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