Government says €100 million Gozo wind turbine funds within reach

An offshore site some 12 nautical miles off the north-east of Gozo, has been identified as the site of a €200 million wind energy project that will power the entire island of Gozo.

Senior government sources reacting to news of the Nationalist Party’s energy blueprint last week, told MaltaToday the Maltese government was already pitching for some €80-€100 million in EU funds for a multi-stakeholder wind energy project.

The ‘Green Island’ wind turbine project was said to be able to power the sister island entirely, as well as export some spillover electricity to Malta.

The project has been pitched to the European Commission’s Innovation Fund, a €10 billion fund for the commercial demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies to support the transition to climate neutrality.

MaltaToday understands the project includes the partnership of state energy utility Enemalta, the Energy and Water Agency, the University of Malta, but also Shanghai Power Electric, the Chinese state company that is today the owner of the Delimara 3 power plant.

Sources said the Green Island wind energy project will turn Gozo into a carbon-neutral island well before 2050. The clean energy will also be produced by onshore solar power, this newspaper was told.

But in-depth studies are still required on the siting of photovoltaic and wind turbine plants, although the sites were said to “steer clear from conservation areas”.

The sources made clear reference to PN leader Bernard Grech’s proposal for wind energy, insisting that this project “has been on the country’s agenda for quite some time, and work on it has already started.”

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The consortium leading the project submitted the application to tap the EU funds back in mid-2020.

Malta’s energy future is back on the agenda after plans for a gas pipeline, connecting Sicily to Malta, were thwarted in a second refusal of EU funds by the European Commission’s INEA. The pipeline would have connected Europe’s gas supply to Malta, which currently uses a floating LNG vessel to provide its Delimara plant with gas.

But the European Commission’s priorities and climate goals have changed radically, and despite an attempt at turning the gas pipeline in a hydrogen-ready connection, the INEA agency turned down Malta’s bid for European funds.

Malta is also connected to the European mainland through an electricity interconnector, which imports electrical energy directly and is still considered to be cheaper than the 18-year deal on gas imported by Electrogas. That deal has been marred by the association of Electrogas shareholder Yorgen Fenech and the former prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, in the offshore company 17 Black.

The Labour government had already scrapped wind in favour of solar energy farms in 2014 to reach its EU renewables targets – producing 10% of its energy through renewable sources by 2020, which it failed at. The Nationalist administration’s original plan was to see the generation of up to 4% of Malta’s energy consumption derived from an offshore wind farm at Is-Sikka l-Bajda off Mellieha. But environmental NGOs had criticised the project since its inception, warning about the negative impact an offshore wind farm would have so close to the Għadira Nature Reserve and areas of special conservation.

Before 2013, the Nationalist administration – which spent two decades neglecting the energy sector despite the interconnector’s positive legacy – had been pursuing plans for offshore wind.

Indeed, the Green Island proposal by Labour bears some resemblance to previous hopes for an offshore wind farm capable of operating 12 nautical miles offshore – but at the time, the technology was less developed or too costly for the Maltese government. Indeed, the Gonzi administration in 2009 had claimed the Sikka l-Bajda offshore option was not viable, leading it to opt for an €80 million land-based wind farm that was eventually never pursued.