Energy Minister Miriam Dalli has refused to publish a response by the European Commission explaining exactly why Malta’s €400 million funding application for a proposed gas pipeline failed, despite the proposal being primed for the transportation of hydrogen.
Dalli turned down this request when asked in Parliament by Shadow Energy Minister Ryan Callus, arguing that the document is the property of the European Commission and includes information that could prejudice future Maltese funding applications.
“This is a puerile argument,” Callus told Lovin Malta. “Where’s the commercial sensitivity? Don’t the people have a right to know? Is Dalli hiding something or did Malta’s application not actually involve a hydrogen-ready pipeline?”
Malta has long planned to develop a LNG pipeline connecting Malta to Sicily, which would replace the LNG tanker berthed in Marsaxlokk Bay that provides gas to the nearby power station run by the ElectroGas consortium, which has been mired in corruption allegations.
At one point, it was even considering linking this pipeline to one already in place in Algeria, with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stating in 2015 that the Algerian government was interested in using Malta as an entry point to Europe’s energy market.
However, last month, MaltaToday reported that the European Commission dismissed Malta’s bid to secure €400 million in EU funding for the project because it has cast its eye to cleaner forms of energy, specifically hydrogen production.
The EU plans to become carbon-neutral, with net-zero carbon emissions, by 2050, which would mean a shift away from fossil fuels. And although LNG is the cleanest fossil fuel, it remains a fossil fuel, and the EU has now cast its eyes to hydrogen, which can be produced from renewable energy and whose own waste product is water, not carbon dioxide.
The EU plans to produce up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2024, rising to ten million tonnes by 2030, with the technologies deployed at large-scale by 2050.
It remains a very new debate in Malta, although former Nationalist MP Franco Debono had actually predicted back in 2009 that hydrogen would become the primary global source of clean energy one day, urging Malta to plan ahead so it won’t be caught off guard.
However, the country has started adjusting to this policy shift, and in 2019 commissioned a feasibility study into whether the ElectroGas power station could be converted to run on hydrogen.
Meanwhile, the gas pipeline proposal has been amended to ensure it will allow the transportation of hydrogen from Italy to Malta when it starts being produced on a large scale.
This is likely to be one of the main challenges facing Miriam Dalli, who was following these discussions closely as an MEP and was appointed Energy Minister this year.
She struck an upbeat tone following the EU’s rejection of Malta’s fund request, saying there remain other EU and local sources of potential funding.
“It remains a project of common interest and we’re not discarding it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Bernard Grech has said Malta should explore more short-term clean energy solutions until hydrogen technology is implemented.
During an interview with Lovin Malta yesterday, Grech suggested utilising wind energy technology without taking up land, pledging to release more details in the coming days.
What energy direction do you think Malta should take in the coming years?