Politika dwar l-Informatika ta' AD

AD tistiednek tikkontribwixxi fil-formulazzjoni tal-politika taghha dwar l-informatika. Dan il-blogg jiehu hsiebu l-kelliem ta' AD dwar l-energija, l-industrija u l-informatika, Ralph Cassar. F'dan il-blogg jigu diskussi ukoll l-industrija u l-energija u kull suggett marbut max-xjenza u t-teknologija.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Addicted to fossils

Ralph Cassar

 

Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels makes sense because of a host of reasons. The first is cleaner air and a healthier population. The effects on health of burning fossils is well known to all. A mention of the frightening incidence of respiratory diseases in Malta is enough to prove the point. Security of supply is another very important reason. It is not a secret that most of the remaining oil reserves are in the world’s most volatile and unstable regions. Another reason is climate change. Although when compared to other countries Malta’s contribution to the total emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the causes of accelerated changes in the climate, as an island nation we should be more aware of the economic and social costs of such changes to the global climate. The report about the economic effects of climate change by the former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern commissioned by the British Government, reported prominently on the front page of The Times on the 31st of October 2006, is clear. We must reduce our dependence on  fossil fuels, for our own sake and for the sake of future generations.

 

How can we achieve this goal? The first thing is investing in energy efficiency. Old and obsolete equipment at our power plants mean that the efficiency of these plants in somewhere in the region of 32%. That means that we are literally burning 68% of the oil this country buys just to heat the air in Marsa and Delimara. Millions down the drain. Increasing efficiency by a further 15% to 20% is possible. Saving another 3%-5% by generating energy from near off-shore (not the unproven, expensive deep off-shore projects dreamed up by the Prime Minister) and land based windfarms is another option. Yes, capital investments would have to be made, but millions of liri in fuels will be saved.

 

In our budget proposals we have proposed government kick-starting an energy efficiency campaign by distributing energy efficient lamps to each and every household in Malta. Just imagine all households using 25% less power to light up at night. Another objective the country can set itself is to have 50,000 households with solar water heaters by 2010. The savings in energy consumption would be huge. These savings on the purchase of fuel by the state can finance these projects.

 

A major area where we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is the transport sector. The biodiesel project by Edible Oil is commendable but more must be done. No self respecting modern city can ignore the issue of mobility and public mass transportation. The public transport system in Malta, basically an island city, is in shambles, whatever Mugliette and co. may say. It is indeed a shame that people are forced to drive to commute, when most would probably do their daily routine travel using public transport, leaving their cars for leisure and quick errands had the public transport option been realistic.

 

There are opportunities for funding, we just have to look in the right places. Astonishingly nowhere in the government’s energy policy document is there reference to the opportunities offered to Malta through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which basically offers a source of revenue for renewable and energy saving initiatives (infrastructural or otherwise) wherein rich, economically powerful countries which are bound by the Kyoto agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions can reduce some of their share of emissions in other countries. The climate does not really care where reductions in emissions are made! The opportunity to benefit from this measure is available until 2012. If someone in the cabinet of ministers wakes up and wants more information he can either ask someone at Malta’s UN diplomatic mission or visit www.unfccc.int.

 

Fuel prices may fluctuate, even downwards at times, but the overall trend will be always upwards. Let us for a moment forget about the environmental and social costs of climate change, it is still in our long term economic interest to start weaning our country off its oil addiction.

 

Ralph Cassar is the spokesperson for Energy, Industry and IT and a member of the executive of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party. Email: ralph.cassar@alternattiva.org.mt

 

Friday, October 06, 2006

Blowing in the wind

by Ralph Cassar

European Union membership, chosen for Malta by the people's free vote, was the only reason for the hurried release of policies and strategies on various issues recently.

Two such documents are the Draft Renewable Energy Policy For Malta and the National Strategic Plan For Research And Innovation. These two policy areas are not vote-getters. Had it not been for deadlines and requests for plans and policies by the EU, we would not be discussing or even thinking about these issues today. Anyone who would dare speak a word about these issues would be labelled "a dreamer" by the almighty, all knowing government.

Europe-wide targets seek to double the percentage of energy from six per cent to 12 per cent of gross energy consumption in Europe by 2010. Malta's EU accession treaty set a target of five per cent of the total energy generated in 2010 to be from renewable sources.

What is not being said is that the government, in November 2005, told the EU that it had revised the national target down from five per cent to a dismal 0.31 per cent. Whether the EU will accept this latest joke has yet to be seen.

Recently we have also had government ministers rubbish anyone who dared put forward ideas for investment in renewables. Austin Gatt, who is the minister in charge of Enemalta, repeatedly mocked the contribution which renewable energy can make to the country's energy needs. The Prime Minister himself, in last year's budget speech, had dismissed renewable sources of energy as impractical.

Well, it just seems that, for all the government rhetoric, the EU thinks otherwise. Even researchers at the University of Malta have shown that Malta can get up to 24 per cent of the total electricity generated in 2003 from renewable sources.

The draft renewable energy policy practically writes off energy from land-based wind farms. According to this draft policy these "will have enormous visual and other impacts which will dominate the Maltese landscape and interfere with the overall quality of life in these islands".

This is unbelievable. Do they "interfere" with the quality of life as much as the noise, soot and dirt coming out of the dilapidated and outdated Marsa power station?

Or even as much as the Delimara one, which although supposedly "modern" does not comply totally with EU emission directives? Well, maybe the residents of the harbour region don't really pose an electoral threat. Maybe they are divided equally between diehard Labourites and diehard Nationalists who have no idea that they have a right to stop inhaling toxic fumes day in, day out. Zero-sum politics.

Until people decide to stop being taken for a ride, vote where it really counts and shake this stifling status quo, everything will remain the same. Is the visual impact of wind farms any worse than the horrid concrete blocks on the Sliema front, those ruining the Gozitan landscape, the hideous Portomaso tower or the towers proposed for Qawra? I think not; actually they would look much better. The emphasis on deep water offshore wind farms to the detriment of any other form of renewable energy is strange.

These kind of wind farms have never been tried and tested anywhere in the world. Offshore wind farms have been rubbished in all of the Malta Resources Authority's previous reports. They were dismissed in Malta's report to the EU. This report stated that proposals for offshore wind farms in Malta are "unrealistic and marginal" and it cast doubt on the possibility of resolving technical issues and of finding investors willing to risk their investment in such a "marginal" project. But then our "competent" authority does a quick U-turn.

I have nothing against offshore wind farms but if the government employs the same economic formulae which it has been using to dismiss other renewable energy sources as unfeasible there is no way that an offshore wind farm project will take off. The project will die an early death and the government will use this failure as an excuse to drag other viable sources of renewable energy down with it.

The draft policy mentions other forms of renewable energy sources but misses one important thing - time frames. Will we have to wait for yet another report? Policies, coming from the government, which has the power to implement, are meaningless without some kind of implementation strategy or plan.

How much longer will we have to wait? Things will change, but only when people have the courage to reject the old way of doing politics.

Ralph Cassar is the spokesman for energy, industry and IT and a member of the executive of Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party.

ralph.cassar@alternattiva.org.mt

Monday, July 17, 2006

Small country, huge potential

Ralph Cassar

A lot is written and said about the state of the economy and the difficulties facing industry at the moment. Change is inevitable, the important thing is to be prepared to face the future head on, with a clear vision of where we want to be and how to get there. Around a year ago Alternattiva Demokratika had issued a paper with suggestions for a social pact between all stakeholders. Edward Fenech, AD’s spokesperson on finance, the economy and tourism had pointed out of the need of planning as regards our country’s economic direction. Planning, when it comes to the economy seems to be a taboo for this government, maybe because of the infamous “economic planning” reminiscent of the cold-war and Iron curtain countries. Whatever the reason in this day and age we cannot afford a “laissez-faire” attitude when it comes to the economy.

What is sure is that any strategy must integrate economic, social and environmental goals avoiding both the soviet style strategies of the 80s and the free-for-all neo-liberal 90s both of which have run out of steam and led to stagnation with their accompanying negative social and environmental (that is “quality of life”) consequences. Our country’s small size can be a blessing in disguise. With the right policy instruments and incentives small and medium sized industry can be prodded into investing in research and development (R&D) and in projects where the small size of the country can make it a real live laboratory for new, innovative ideas which benefit industry and the whole of society. Some areas which immediately spring to mind are public transport, energy-efficient modes of transport, clean electricity, environment-friendly agriculture, energy efficient buildings and new cleaner technologies in the manufacturing sector.

On the EU front it is important for our country to put pressure to make the EU Framework programme more SME-friendly. Its current structure favours mega-industry. It is particularly important for Malta that the participation of smaller research actors is facilitated. The Maltese government should insist that funding is earmarked for the use of SMEs and clusters of small firms and laboratories.

The tax burden should be shifted from labour to capital and resource use. Productive labour should be taxed less, resource intensive activities more, encouraging employers to employ more people and at the same time encouraging a wise use of resources. Social reforms are also necessary to ensure healthy a family/leisure/work balance; child care facilities and work environments which are conscious of the employees other commitments beyond work spring to mind. Whatever the propaganda about ‘loss of overtime’, we must come to a point where employees give a decent week’s work, are paid fairly for it and they do not need to, nor are they expected to, slave away at their desks or machines for hours on end.

Finding niche markets and having clear economic targets integrated with measures to enhance the quality of life of one and all is the key to success and wellbeing. Alternattiva Demokratika would like to hear your opinions about industry, R&D and their related social and environmental aspects. Anybody wishing to contribute towards the party’s policy development in these areas is welcome to send me an email.

Ralph Cassar is the spokesperson for Energy, Industry and IT and a member of the executive of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party. Email: ralph.cassar@alternattiva.org.mt

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tackling climate change, improving lifes

Ralph Cassar

 

Today, it is a well established fact that tackling Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity.  Our failure to do so will not only lead to long-term environmental degradation but will also lead to severe economic repercussions.  Scientists in the field have established important causal links between extreme weather events such as the floods which devastated Central Europe in autumn 2003 or hurricane Katrina and human induced climate change.  In both cases the expenses related to remediation of the ensuing damages ran into millions of Liri.

 

In Malta, electricity generation with its 1783 kilotonnes of CO2 emitted per annum is responsible for 75% of Malta’s CO2 emissions.  Furthermore projections based on the Malta’s first National Communication to the UNFCCC indicate that if the demand for electricity were to continue increasing at the present rate of ca. 5% per annum emissions of CO2 will increase by ca. 12% in 5years. 

 

The first step in the abatement of CO2 emissions should be the management of the demand for electricity. Different tax rates on appliances depending on energy efficiency is a good way to reward customers who choose the most efficient models. Unfortunately the “eco-contribution” introduced by this government in 2004, through the Eco-Contribution Act does not make any distinction between appliances. Levying a flat contribution on all appliances irrespective of energy performance does not make the energy saving product more “palatable”. Government should consider waiving the eco-contribution altogether on the most energy efficient products (A-rated appliances).

 

Figures from the 2003 show that ca. 9% of the total electrical power generated is used up to produce potable water. As an additional measure government should study how to best utilise second class water for “non-drinking” purposes. As things stand the government plans to throw second class water produced by the long overdue sewage treatment plants into the sea.

 

Increasing the contribution of renewable energy production is one of the basic pillars of climate change strategies throughout the European Union. The EU is committed to increasing the contribution of renewable energies from the current 4% to 12% of the energy generated by 2010. Through L.N. 186 of 2004 Malta has established for itself a National Indicative target for energy generated from renewable sources of 5% by 2010. So far Malta has done very little or nothing in this area and it is highly probable that this target will not be met.  Rather than making hurried pronouncements regarding the non-viability of renewable energy resources (Budget Speech 2006), the government should think about schemes aimed at subsidising the generation of electricity from renewable resources and promoting research into renewable energy and climate change technologies. The recent statements by the Prime Minister about wind energy (after statements rubbishing alternative sources of energy just a few months ago) are probably just that, empty rhetoric.

 

In 2003 Malta emitted 525 kilotonnes of CO2 (ca. 20% of the total emissions) from road transport.  Without any doubt extensive use of private cars was the major contributor to this amount. According to Eurostat figures, Malta has the 5th highest car ownership rate in the European Union, ca. 2 cars per household and the number of passengers using public transport declined by 20% over 8 years.  These figures are indicative of our public transport’s unpopularity and failure. Public transport must become a viable commuting option for a greater portion of the population.  The reform should start with buses, all “pre-Euro standard” buses should be replaced with buses which conform to at least Euro IV and preferably operating on bio-diesel and/or natural gas.  Other methods of transport should also be looked into to create a network of public transport options for commuters. Wider usage of sea transport especially between Malta and Gozo and in the Sliema, Valletta and Cottonera harbour areas, the introduction of bicycle lanes, electric buses, trams should be seriously considered. Maybe we can also start dreaming of an underground system.

 

Investment in public transport will yield a host of benefits in terms of the quality of life of people, not to mention economic benefits by reducing dependence on costly fuel for mobility. A lot can be learnt from the public transport systems of cities such as Parma in Italy and Munich in Germany. There local governments have been successful in providing their citizens with effective, efficient and reliable transport system. How can it be so difficult to provide a good public service in such a small country? It is another area of failure for this government. Unfortunately the concept of government funded (that is, taxpayer funded) public services are no longer in fashion here.

 

Think of a Malta with cleaner air, less traffic and people-friendly urban areas. It is possible.

 

 

Ralph Cassar is the spokesperson for Energy, Industry and IT and a member of the executive of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party. Email: ralph.cassar@alternattiva.org.mt

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pollution from Maltese power stations

Speaking at a Press Conference in front of the Marsa Power Station main gate entrance the Chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party (AD) Dr. Vassallo said: "If there is one area in which EU membership should have benefited Malta, than that should have been Environmental Protection. Barely two years after Malta's accession into the EU the Maltese government is already failing dismally to deliver on what it promised the electrorate in the pre-accession period." "We run the risk that the general disillusionment of the electorate with Malta's EU membership will fuel even more Euro-scepticism," added Dr Vassallo.

Ralph Cassar AD spokesperson on Energy, Industry and IT said: "The two power stations are just one of the issues which prove the government's lack of commitment towards the resolution of environmental problems. The Maltese electorate was enticed into voting for EU membership amongst other things, by the government's promises that the Delimara Power Station would adopt EU standards by the end of 2005 whilst the Marsa Power Station would either adopt EU standards by the date of accession or else close down (cf. Aggornat Special Edition November 2002). Today it is clear that this was nothing more than one of those pre-electoral promises the Maltese Electorate is so accustomed to."

"Any frequent user of Triq Dicembru 13 in Marsa will confirm that the chimneys at the Marsa Power Station often belch out conspicuous amounts of black smoke, replete with that particulate matter which the Power Station is meant to control as per the Large Combustion Plants Directive. We challenge the government to prove that the Marsa Power Station is in line with the requirements of the above mentioned Directive!" added Ralph Cassar.

Dr Vassallo continued: "The Marsa Power Station should be decommissioned since it is obvious that it is not up to EU standards, and new equipment should be used instead. "Costs are not an issue since a study by Dr Stephen Montfort has established a causal link between the Power Station emissions and the incidence of respiratory diseases in the area. The costs Enemalta would have to face in order to modernise its Jurassic equipment are more than offset by the social costs suffered by the populations of the localities close to the Power Station."

Ralph Cassar said: "According to the Treaty on the Accession of Malta into the European Union Annex XI pp 3308), the Delimara Power Station had to be compliant with dust emission limit values as from the 31 Decemeber 2005. Dust emissions to the atmosphere can be brought in line with what is demanded by EU-legislation only through the installation of electrostatic precipitators. To date we have not heard any news about the installation of such equipment at Delimara. This means that the Power Station at Delimara is in breach of the Large Combustion Plants Directive (2001/80/EC)." Ralph Cassar continued: "AD also suspect that the Delimara Power Station is not in line with the emission limit values for sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen as well."

"The Directive on Power Plants obliges the operator to monitor continuously for the emissions of these pollutants. We are soliciting Minister Pullicino to publish any data for the emissions of pollutants from the two power stations, if he is in possession of such data. If this data does not exist then we believe that the Maltese electorate is owed an explanation," added Ralph Cassar.

Dr Vassallo concluded: "In the coming days AD will be lodging a compliant with the Commissioner for the Environment regarding this issue. AD also appeals and invites all Maltese and Gozitans who treasure their health and that of their children to do likewise by signing a petition related to this complaint which can be found on the AD websites www.alternattiva.org.mt & www.adgozo.com ."

Petition the EU about Malta Power Plants

Send this email to stavros.dimas@ec.europa.eu and copy me.
 
Thanks
 
Ralph Cassar
 
 
Commissioner for the Environment

Your Excellency,

I am writing to complain about the implementation of Directive 2001/80/EC (The Large Combustion Plants Directive) in Malta.

Annex XI (page 3308) of Treaty on the Accession of Malta to the European Union states that:

"By way of derogation from Article 4(1) and part A of Annex VII of Directive 2001/80/EC, the emission limit value for dust shall not apply until 31 December 2005 to Phase One of the Delimara power plant."

To date no abatement equipment has been installed at the Delimara Power Station in order to bring the emissions of dust from this plant in line with the requirements of the Directive.

The Marsa Power Station frequently emits copious amounts of black smoke. I believe this is proof that this Power Station is also not in line with the requirements of the said Directive, at least for dust levels.

The boilers at this plant date back to the late 80's and have never been retrofitted with abatement equipment to control acidifying emissions, therefore I find it hard to believe that their emissions are in line with standards enforced by the Directive, especially as regards emissions of oxides of nitrogen.

I kindly ask you to investigate this matter, and to take any action you deem necessary should it result that the power plants are in breach of any of the requirements of the said Directive.

Regards,

Name:
Address:

PN arrogance

PN arrogance

Mr Ralph Cassar, Attard.

The Prime Minister now mentions alternative sources of energy. Hadn't a particular government minister, Austin Gatt to be precise, rubbished such sources of energy barely a few months ago? Some pundits close to the PN are already crowing of how far-sighted the PM is. Others, Alternattiva Demokratika, at the forefront have been drawing attention to the unsustainability of energy generation for ages, but now "God" has spoken!

The arrogance of the PN has no limits. It has no clear policy not only on the energy issue but on a host of other issues. It is the quintessence of a populist party, whose only purpose is absolute power at all costs.

It wants us and Gozitans, in particular, to believe that it is the champion of democracy, proposing that Gozo remains one district but without saying that if no changes are made to the electoral system this will mean less democracy. It will mean that a larger population (Gozo, in this case) will still elect five MPs. How is that for democracy? Journalists and columnists seem to have not picked up the outrageousness of this proposal.

The PN is joined on the altar of arrogance by the Labour Party, with its insistence of governing with only 45 per cent of the vote. Democracy my foot!