Towards implementing the PN’s energy plan

There’s one logical reason behind the government’s choice – the interconnector provides the cheapest prices. It seems after all, that the PN’s energy policy is the most sustainable option in the long-term

Bernard Grech (centre) meets consumers affected by ARMS overcharging. The PN has pledged a €50 million refund on overcharged bills
Bernard Grech (centre) meets consumers affected by ARMS overcharging. The PN has pledged a €50 million refund on overcharged bills

The past recent days have been characterised by headlines from the energy sector.

Firstly, the ‘anomalous’ mechanism applied by ARMS for the billing of utilities, and more recently, the second interconnector. Both issues have been brought up to the national debate following the numerous proposals presented by the Nationalist Party.

Overcharging utility bills

One cannot merely continue to call the utility billing mechanism an “anomaly”, four years down the line since it was initially described as such by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Admitting to an anomaly is one thing, but an anomaly becomes theft if it is allowed to persist, in particular for a futher four years.

The National Auditor’s report on the matter therefore comes as no surprise today, given that the Nationalist Party has been stating the obvious since 2017. Labour’s response went from rejection, to an admission by Muscat, then back to rejection by Minister Miriam Dalli and Prime Minister Robert Abela, then to “if there is an anomaly, we’re open to fixing things”.

Labour then tried to shift the blame on the former Nationalist administration. Truth be told, the issue resulted when Labour starting issuing six-yearly bills on a two-monthly duration on an actual basis, as opposed to the previous system which provided only two actual bills and four estimate bills.

Pre-2013, the system would have allowed for adjustments to overcharging, which is now no longer the case. In a nutshell, families are being billed for units at a more expensive band prior to consuming all cheaper bands. To make matters worse, families are also being deprived of the eco-contribution, a mechanism introduced by the then PN administration, providing a reduction in utility bills meant to encourage diligent consumers that do not spend more than 1,750 units per year.

This anomaly-now-theft has likewise deprived our families of their cheapest units and their eco-contribution. Our proposal is to provide the necessary flexibility such that consumers benefit from all the cheapest units. Opposition Leader Bernard Grech has however went one step further, promising a refund amounting to approximately €50 million in overcharges.

Labour has since tried to create an issue as a deviation tactic with regards to commercial bills.

We are aware of businesses, in the bracket of the lower usage commercial consumers who’s daily usage is circa 85 units per day and 60,000 units per year. Minister Dalli decided to ignore this sector, referring only to the bigger commercial consumer (above 60,000 units a year). The smaller commercial consumer, such as the retail shop, the ironmonger, the services provider and the typical professional office consisting of a few workers, are at risk of being overcharged.

It is evident that Labour has not understood this, and has in fact failed to provide examples of lower consuming commercial consumers. To this effect, the commercial consumer will also be addressed in our proposal, but not by the one-size-fits-all being suggested by the Labour government.

We will not raise anyone’s bill, as Labour is implying, but give back €50 million stolen from the consumer and stop this injustice by addressing the billing mechanism. A Nationalist government will also address the anomaly for low commercial consumers as a means to sustain their competitiveness.

Second interconnector vs Second Electrogas

This week was characterised by the so called “Cabinet approval” for the second interconnector. Truth be told, a better description for this approval would have been “Cabinet rubber-stamped”. We have now become accustomed to Labour making its own others’ proposals without acknowledging others were credit is due.

Indeed, the second interconnector had been already planned way back in 2006 by a former PN administration, as laid down in the 2006-2015 Enemalta Generation Plan.

The PN’s commitment towards the second interconnector was renewed again in January 2020 and more recently in February 2021 when we launched the PN Future Energy Plan 2021-2030-2050.

However, of more importance to our families is whether we have maximised the usage of the first interconnector – simply because the interconnector has provided us with the cheapest electricity rates, much cheaper than Electrogas most of the time.

Therefore, whilst is it good news that we’re going for the second interconnector, the bas news is that since the switching on of Electrogas, interconnector usage went from 87% in 2016 to 22% in 2020.

There’s only one reason to this under-usage – Labour has committed Enemalta to purchase circe 80% of the energy generated by Electrogas, come what may. This take-or-pay condition for 18 years is detrimental to the future sustainability of our utilities, to our families, our economy and jobs.

All in all, Labour had an option to either go for an extension of another Electrogas turbine, or a second interconnector.

There’s one logical reason behind the choice – the interconnector provides the cheapest prices. It seems after all, that the PN’s energy policy is the most sustainable option in the long-term.

Ryan Callus is Opposition spokesperson for energy