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Marsa power station may be forced to close before deadline

The polluting combustion plants at the Marsa power station may be forced to shut down between two to three years earlier than the 2015 government deadline if they continue to burn energy at the current rate.

EU rules that took effect on January 1, 2008, laid down that the archaic combustion plants (boilers) at the power station could only operate for a further 20,000 hours before having to cease operations permanently. At the latest, the plant must be shut down by 2015.

Last year, each of the six boilers at the power station were used for between 4,000 and 6,700 hours, the Infrastructure Ministry told The Sunday Times.

The ministry said that contrary to popular belief, each of the six boilers at the power station was permitted to operate for 20,000 hours, and the figure did not apply to the plant's total output.

However, a European Commission environment spokesman contradicted the ministry's statement, saying that according to EU directives, individual boilers may only operate for 20,000 hours if their emissions were discharged through separate stacks.

There are only four stacks at Marsa, so the operational hours of the other two boilers cannot be considered independently.

"The list... received from Malta contains four combustion plants at Marsa, corresponding with the four stacks," the spokesman told The Sunday Times.

The Infrastructure Ministry was asked to comment on the spokesman's statement, but an e-mail, phone calls and text messages remained unanswered.

The EU has already taken steps at the European Court of Justice in connection with the operation of the power station.

The time limit set by the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive is aimed at stemming emissions of hazardous substances that can adversely affect human health, particularly respiratory health leading to the exacerbation of asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Towns that are being negatively affected by the emissions from the Marsa plant include Fgura, Floriana, Hamrun, Corradino, Qormi, Paola and Pietà, according to the most recent State of the Environment Report published by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The 2015 deadline is yet another postponement of several promises made to shut down the plant for over the past two decades.

In 2006, Enemalta's Generation Plan had said: "Unless emissions from the steam plant at Marsa Power Station are reduced to below the established limits by January 1, 2008, the plant will only be allowed to operate for 20,000 hours from this date and is expected to be shut down by April 2010 at the present rate of operation."

In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, Resources Minister George Pullicino admitted that the closure of the polluting plant would be postponed again; this time from 2010 to 2015, which coincides with the latest date allowed under the EU directive.

"At the moment, the Marsa power station is only kicking in when the Delimara power station is not sufficiently supplying the island. But because there is a delay in the implementation of things, Marsa will shut down in 2015... There's a lot of work that still needs to be done in terms of infrastructure to meet the 2015 deadline," Mr Pullicino had said.

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