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Power station has to move on

The talking – about the gas-fired power station at Deli-mara and the storage of gas required to feed it – is far from over. It will probably never be over. Those who oppose the siting of the project will continue to do so for years, though now they say they welcome the fact that it will lead to cheaper tariffs. But note has to be taken that Mepa on Monday issued the basic approval required for the project to get going.

The hardest part is yet to come. Presumably the commercial operators are in advanced discussions with the banks that, together with them, will be financing the project. Such negotiations would have been dependent on the Mepa permit being issued.

That has now happened. Presumably the road is clear for the necessary physical works to be taken in hand soon. That will have to be done in the context of the Prime Minister’s commitment to see the project ready within 18 months of the start of the works.

It will be a race against time. It is not important that the race will be won within the established timeline because that is a challenge by the Prime Minister. He did not lay down the challenge as a matter of vain glory. It is important that the new gas-fired power station comes on stream because that is how the necessary cost savings to sustain lower domestic tariffs will come about.

Following that, in a year’s time, tariffs should also come down for industrial users. Again, that is not important because it is a government promise. It is essential because it will help to increase competitiveness. That is a process that has to continue unbroken. Producers have to take their own steps to achieve it, together with their workforce and deploying production techniques which incorporate the latest technological innovation, to raise productivity also by lowering costs.

Reduced energy tariffs would be an important input towards that objective. It is not improbable that producers are already incorporating the proposed tariff cut into their cost projections from 2015/2016 onwards. They have expressed agreement that the reduction will be a welcome necessary boost at the margin.

The Opposition ... staked a lot on making the government change its power development plan by locating storage outiside Marsaxlokk Harbour, thus making the project cost much more than forecast and delaying it

In a broader context it is now important that nothing is done to delay progress on the project. That may prove to be too tall an order for the Opposition. It has staked a lot on making the government change its power development plan by locating storage outside Marsaxlokk Harbour, thus making the project cost much more than forecast and delaying it. It is unlikely that the Opposition will now admit defeat. Unfortunately, its history suggests that, along with genuine concern regarding safety factors, it will remain all out to delay, even break up, the project.

Air Malta is grim evidence of that. When another Labour government proposed to set up a national airline the Nationalist Opposition of the time let all hell loose. Its scaremongering and the crude language used to try to frighten potential passengers remains disgusting to this day.

Yet, because the government had the courage to forge ahead while taking all possible safety measures, Air Malta has been a success story. Despite continuing criticism of it, it established itself and was profitable for a long time. Thanks for that goes mostly to Albert Mizzi, Joe Tabone and Louis Grech.

The Nationalists never apologised for the base way they had reacted towards the airline in its early years. There are other examples. Unfortunately the Opposition of the day always opposes. Nationalist Oppositions have a habit of doing so more and more fiercely.

That has already been seen in the first year of the life of the current Labour government. Criticism addressed at everything that moves in government camp has been so vicious that some government members are tacitly shying away from it. Leading Nationalists, like former minister Michael Falzon who is now retired from politics and wields a pen all the more mighty because it is free and unencumbered (though he surely retains his original political beliefs) came out with a blitzkrieg on Sunday.

Whatever the Opposition does, the project managers have to forge ahead. They have to take into account that so much scaremongering could affect individuals who do not know better, pushing them towards some sabotage attempt. The keenest security measures are essential.

Meanwhile, the story of the gas-fired power station project will unfold day by day.

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