Renewed objections ‘won’t stop Sicily cable’

‘Commune can’t stop it’

A cross-section of the proposed interconnector cable. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A cross-section of the proposed interconnector cable. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The Government is confident that it will get the permits it needs to complete the interconnector project in spite of fresh opposition on the Sicilian side.

We have been assured that the permit will go through
- Tonio Fenech

“We are not concerned that the opposition could in any way derail the project because we have been assured that the permit will go through the whole process.

“Besides, there are no severe objections and the regional government has already approved it,” Finance Minister Tonio Fenech said yesterday.

With this in mind, he said that the permits should be in hand by the end of February, at the latest.

He was reacting to news that the Movimento Territorio Ragusa, an environmental group associated with the Ragusa province – where the interconnector cable will be connected on the Sicilian side – announced it planned to oppose the project fiercely.

The group said it “would be at the frontline against the project for environmental reasons” arguing that the interconnector, particularly an onshore terminal, would damage the area near Marina di Ragusa and the mouth of the River Irminio.

But Mr Fenech said that the interconnector infrastructure on the Sicily side would be underground and that the zone earmarked was located in an area where there already was a water treatment plant.

Moreover, the minister, who is responsible for Enemalta, said the Italian Government had given assurances that the project was being seen as a project of national strategic importance.

“This means that the ultimate decision is also taken at a national level,” he said.

The minister’s comments were echoed by the Italian Ambassador to Malta, Efisio Luigi Marras, who said that the project had been discussed at the highest levels between Malta and Italy, adding that the Italian side recognised the importance of this project for Malta.

“From the Italian side, there is all the will to accelerate the procedure as we have done so far,” he said.

He would not comment further, saying: “I feel I should stop here at this point.”

The Ragusa commune had objected to the project months ago but the case resurfaced when, last week, a date was set for a hearing on the 23rd of this month by the Economic Development Ministry, which has the final say on the matter.

It appears that the commune had plans to rehabilitate the bay that is earmarked to be used for the interconnection.

On this point, Mr Fenech said that he had had a meeting with the Ragusa mayor months ago to address its concerns and insisted yesterday that the council had the wrong information on the Government’s plans.

“Their concerns were that there would be structures on the bay but this is not the case because the infrastructure willbe underground.

“The other objection was about the huge size of the tunnel to be dug, which is not the case either because we are talking here of what is known as ‘micro tunnelling’, which is not as big as they are saying,” Mr Fenech said.

In a statement to the press, the Movimento Territorio Ragusa pointed out that, as far back as June last year, the then mayor of Ragusa, Nello Dipasquale, had voiced opposition to the project and called on the proponents to interrupt the procedure for its implementation.

The movement called for alternative solutions, which would protect the environment.

Attempts to contact Mr Dipasquale, who is now a regional councilor, proved to be unsuccessful.

Interconnector cable

The interconnector is a €200 million project, partly funded by the European Union, which, by the end of 2014, should see Malta connected to the European electricity grid.

The project, which is now a feature on the ongoing electoral debate on the future energy plans for Malta, is essentially an electricity cable, capable of delivering 200 megawatts, linking Magħtab to Ragusa in Sicily.

In December 2010, the Government signed a €182 million deal with French company Nexans for the laying of the cable.

On the Maltese side, a five-kilometre long tunnel is being bored between Magħtab and Kappara, where the cable will eventually be hooked up to the distribution centre there.

The permit process from the Italian side has seen some delays but there has been consistent commitment from the Italian Government towards the energy project.

In December, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Giulio Terzi told his Maltese counterpart, Francis Zammit Dimech, that the permits would be issued by the beginning of February.

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