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Offshore Gozo wind farm to be 'considered'

A wind farm off the coast of Gozo is "not being excluded" and will be "considered further" as part of the Eco Gozo initiative, even though it would be considerably smaller than the one planned for Sikka l-Bajda, according to the Resources Ministry.

"But it is much more difficult to convince private companies to invest in a small offshore wind farm than a similarly sized one on land," warned Tonio Sant, a sustainable energy expert working with the ministry.

The ministry was asked to respond to criticism by physics professor Edward Mallia who said a wind mast should have been set up in Gozo to study the potential of the sites.

He pointed out that Resources Minister George Pullicino had hinted that if the proposal to install a wind farm at Sikka l-Bajda did not go through, Malta would be "stuck" and may need to renegotiate its EU renewable energy 2020 targets - something the EU said would not be possible.

But Prof. Mallia said a wind measuring mast in Gozo would offer the government backup in case the Sikka l-Bajda proposal failed to go through.

Although a wind farm off Gozo's northern shore would not be as productive as that of Sikka l-Bajda, initial studies showed it could generate around 4.3 per cent of the electricity generated by power stations today, so it could not be ignored, he said. Prof. Mallia's plea became more urgent since a team of marine geologists last month discovered two large hollows (or sinkholes) at Sikka l-Bajda, thought to be the result of weathered cave-like features whose roofs collapsed over time.

Prof. Mallia has estimated that these caves - 240 and 120 metres wide respectively - would cause between two and four of the wind turbines to be scrapped from the 19 turbines being proposed. His "rough guess" assumes that the turbines would be able to be placed around the sinkholes but not inside them.

But the damage could be even more considerable if the reef contains other, as yet undiscovered, sinkholes, the roofs of which have not yet collapsed.

Asked to react to Prof. Mallia's calculations, the ministry said that before drawing any conclusions it would wait for the detailed study of the reef undertaken as part of the Environment Impact Assessment in the coming weeks.

However, Dr Sant pointed out that since the turbines would be placed 400 metres away from one another, a cave of 240 metres would not necessarily create too much of a hindrance.

Prof. Mallia and Dr Sant were part of the expert committee appointed by the ministry to study the Sikka l-Bajda site.

The report says: "While problems associated with having a wind farm project at Sikka l-Bajda are by no means insurmountable, the possibility of having offshore wind farms at other sites, particularly the north Gozo shore, should be kept under review..."

It is still unclear why a wind mast was not set up on the Gozitan coast. When asked, the ministry spokesman said measuring masts could not be placed all over the islands.

Another difficulty is that the wind farm would have to be closer to land and would therefore have a more imposing visual impact than the one at Sikka l-Bajda.

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