The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

Updated: Interconnector repairs to cost €11 million, will be re-energised by third week of March

Albert Galea Friday, 14 February 2020, 12:19 Last update: about 10 days ago

Repairs to the Malta-Sicily interconnector is estimated to cost €11 million, with the timeline for re-energisation showing that it will recommence electricity generation as of the third week of March.

The interconnector was severely damaged on 23 December last year when it was hit by a ship's anchor.  The event caused widespread power cuts on the island which continued intermittently until Enemalta mobilised its standby turbines.

Addressing a press conference which focused on providing updates to the repair process, Energy Minister Michael Farrugia announced that in recent days an agreement was signed with the company Nexans Norway - who had laid the interconnector in the first place - for the repairs to begin.  The ship will enter Marsaxlokk on Friday afternoon, he said, and will then load up the standby interconnector.

Work is expected to start between Tuesday and Wednesday, he said, and the hope is that by the third week of March, the necessary repairs will have been done. After the repairs are done, there will follow another process so that the cable is re-buried under the seabed as it was, Farrugia said.

These dates are subject to there being favourable weather conditions.

Enemalta CEO Jason Vella explained that that final reburial process will take up to five weeks, but that nonetheless once the repair phase is complete the interconnector can deliver energy once again.

He said that the vessel which had caused the damage had been identified and that its protection and indemnity insurance has been approached and a letter of undertaking has been submitted.  The taxpayer will not have to pay anything towards the repairs, which will cost an estimated €11 million, he said.

The de-burial operation to uncover the cable will commence on Sunday.  One end at a time, the severed cable shall be lifted up to the repair vessel, where it shall be cut to remove the damaged cable length, jointed to one end of an approximately 2km long spare cable, and lowered down back to the seabed.  The same procedure will then be repeated with the other end of the cable.

Farrugia meanwhile also spoke about what a good decision this government took when it decided to do all it could to be self-sufficient in terms of electricity supply.  "If these measures were not taken and we stuck to only having an interconnector, our country would not have enough supply to cope with the country's demand", Farrugia said.

He said that discussions are underway so to bring an added emphasis on alternative energy sources, noted that this is needed especially as Malta's electricity demand continues to increase - Farrugia noted that it increased by 20% between 2014 and 2018.

Farrugia was also asked about the possibility of the country building a second interconnector, something which has been proposed by the Nationalist Party in the past and which was actively being pursued when they were in government prior to 2013.

The Minister was however not enthused about the idea, saying that depending on interconnectors "is not the way forward", and that Malta needs local security of supply.

He said that the biggest investment must now come in alternative energy, and that all types of sources - besides hydro - were being evaluated. He said that just yesterday he had been in major discussions with Enemalta and other private investors over potential projects, but said that environmental assessments must be carried out on each idea first.

He said that the idea will be taken to Cabinet and then to the public and eNGOs for feedback and for understanding of the idea.

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