Updated 8.20pm with ministry statement
An emergency power plant scheduled to be in place for the summer will not require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) after Enemalta warned of a "repeat of the crisis" that saw widespread powercuts last year.
The power company requested the exemption for the Delimara plant last November, pointing out the "extremely urgent" nature of the project.
"Due to the time constraints requiring the additional generation capacity to be in place by summer 2024, compliance with the requirements of the regulations would not only be impossible but would defeat the entire purpose of the project, that is to avoid a repeat of the crisis experienced last summer," Enemalta's executive chairman Ryan Fava said in a letter.
In his written exemption request to the Environmental Resource Authority (ERA), Fava said energy demand increased by 14 per cent last July compared to previous summers.
The country endured 10 days of power cuts amid record heatwaves last July.
"Enemalta anticipates that the demand in summer of 2024 will rise even higher and that unless the project is commissioned by intended date, that is, before the summer of 2024 it will not be able to guarantee security of electricity supply," he said.
The Environmental Resource Authority (ERA) granted the exemption in January because of the project's urgency.
The authority also pointed out that the project is unlikely to impact the environment significantly since the emergency power plant is located in an area already used for power generation.
It added that the portable nature of the plant means the site can be re-established once the plant is no longer in use.
"Therefore, the submission of an EIA is not required," ERA said.
Powerplants are among the projects that must have an EIA before works begin. However, ERA can waive the requirement in "exceptional cases" where the EIA process would negatively affect the project's purpose.
Energy minister Miriam Dalli announced plans for the new powerplant last November.
The previous summer people were forced to sleep outside, or in their cars with the engine running in an attempt to beat the heat, supermarkets were forced to throw away freezers full of spoilt food and restaurants and hotels had to turn away clients.
The €12 million emergency 60-megawatt plant would have the capacity to supply additional power should one of the country's principal electricity supplies suffer damage during peak demand.
The government is also fast-tracking a project to lay 70 kilometres of electricity cables to prevent further power cuts.
PN: Environment paying the price for poor planning
PN MP and environment spokesperson Rebekah Borg said that the decision to bypass the EIA requirement was a sign of the government's poor planning.
"First it did not plan for the additional energy demand brought about by population increase, now it needs an 'emergency power plant'," Borg said in a statement.
"The government should have had a proper long-term plan and forecast the increase in energy demand," she added.
The Energy Ministry hit back by saying that the plant would only be used in emergencies when energy demand hit unusual peaks, and that the procedure adopted was in line with all EU rules.
"The Opposition's only energy plan is to raise prices by liberalising distribution markets, while the Labour government has accelerated investment in electricity distribution," it said.