UK expert queries PL’s gas proposal

But Labour stands by its plan to reduce energy tariffs

British energy expert Miles Seaman making a point at a PN press conference about Labour’s proposal to reduce water and electricity tariffs. Photo: Jason Borg

British energy expert Miles Seaman making a point at a PN press conference about Labour’s proposal to reduce water and electricity tariffs. Photo: Jason Borg

A British expert specialising in gas installations yesterday called Labour’s plan to build a new gas power plant in two years “very unlikely” – though not impossible.

Everything is possible but I really can’t see this project coming on stream before five years

Miles Seaman is a chemical engineer who has in the past advised Enemalta and a private Maltese company involved in the gas business.

He questioned the timeframe envisioned by the Labour Party and the wisdom of having a gas storage facility placed next to the proposed power plant.

Reacting later, the Labour Party said it stood by its plan, pointing out that Mr Seaman did not say the party’s timeframes were impossible.

He had also endorsed the safety record of this kind of plant, saying he had never come across an accident throughout his long career, Labour added.

When asked by The Times whether it was realistic to expect the proposed plant and ancillary facilities to be built within two years, Mr Seaman said it all depended on the starting point: the studies needed.

In his experience, the entire process usually took at least three to four years to complete.

“Although, obviously, everything is possible, I really can’t see this project coming on stream before five years,” he said.

Labour has proposed to reduce electricity bills through a private investment in a new 200MW gas-fired power plant, a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal and two new storage tanks.

Mr Seaman – whose last project involved the building of a 450-kilometre gas pipeline in the Middle East – addressed a press conference yesterday at PN headquarters.

He corroborated the PN’s criticism that there were not enough vessels available for charter that could deliver the relatively small amount of gas Malta would need.

Purpose-built vessels would drive up the costs.

However, he said the large, more common LNG vessels that cannot enter the port of Marsaxlokk, due to depth problems, could unload their supplies offshore, though this would again make the operation more expensive.

In his reaction on this point, Labour spokesman Konrad Mizzi said the party had spoken to a number of companies and was given different options.

One of them said it could deploy small vessels and failing this, another offered the possibility of using what is known as a dolphin to deliver the gas from offshore.

But Mr Seaman laid stress on the small size of the project and the economies of scale involved.

“We have to keep in mind that the project being proposed is of a very small scale in the industry and this comes with costs related to the economies of scale. This fact alone might push costs further for Malta.”

Asked whether a gas pipeline (the option preferred by the PN) was safer than an LNG terminal, Mr Seaman said the pipeline was safer but also that “one can engineer all of these things to a similar level of safety”.

The Labour Party said its project need not be at the expense of the pipeline project, adding that it would continue to seek EU funds for the latter.

However, the terminal was a quicker option that would yield savings of some €177 million a year, as well as a cleaner environment and lower tariffs.

On the other hand, the pipeline was not expected to materialise within a decade.

Dr Mizzi said Labour had spoken to EIA experts who confirmed that a study could be done in six weeks because all that was required would be an update of an existing study done for the BWSC plant in Delimara.

However, he would not name these experts, saying they were reluctant to come out in the open for fear of being blacklisted by the Government.


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