The government will be embarking on an education campaign encouraging Maltese households to take up more sustainable energy practices. 

This comes in light of the public service introducing new lighting and air conditioning temperature limits, in an effort to curb the impact of climbing energy costs. 

Energy prices have risen stratospherically in recent months, but tariffs have remained unchanged for consumers and businesses, with the government opting to absorb the additional costs. 

But that decision has stretched public finances, and ministries have been ordered to save €200 million by cutting down on administrative costs to mitigate the effect of energy subsidies. 

Subsidising energy prices could cost even more - some analysts predict €400 million - next year. 

In reply to questions sent by Times of Malta, a spokesperson from the Energy Ministry said that the energy-saving guidelines being introduced for the public service are free to be adopted by members of the public and that the government would be launching an awareness campaign to encourage this. 

“The Ministry encourages the general public and private sector to join the government in this initiative. The government will soon embark on a nationwide educational campaign to further encourage households and businesses to invest in efficiency and adopt responsible consumption and other sustainable practices,” the spokesperson said. 

“Meanwhile, through schemes such as those run by Malta Enterprise, the private sector is encouraged to invest in smart and sustainable operations.”

Various EU countries have introduced rules intended to limit energy consumption in recent months.

In France, shops with air conditioning that do not keep their door closed are being fined, while Spain has introduced minimum temperature rules for air conditioning units in shops, offices, cinemas and other such places. Germany has banned heated swimming pools while Austria has cancelled many of its Christmas lighting plans for Vienna. 

But while those countries must contend with the challenge of reducing their gas use by 15 per cent, Malta has been spared that thanks to an exemption from that EU-wide rule.

Locally, the Malta Chamber has suggested capping subsidies at the eco-reduction offered to households and businesses, with excess consumption charged at the actual price of energy. 

Minister: we will continue to offer stability

The guidelines issued to all government and public sector entities dictate that air conditioning is to be set at a minimum of 24°C on cooling and no higher than 21°C on heating, with exceptions only made for hospitals. Facade lighting on public buildings and monuments will also be switched off at night. 

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli sidestepped questions on how the government planned to continue absorbing the cost of climbing energy prices without having to raise utility bills.

Video: Jonathan Borg

“The government has always said that it will offer stability, that is our policy and that is what we plan to keep on doing,” she said. 

“If you see what’s happening in neighbouring countries, governments who aren’t taking this sort of approach, the repercussions are very serious. In Italy, for example, we’re seeing a situation where prices and bills are five times higher than they used to be before.” 

With the subsidies the government is providing, she said that at a conservative estimate families are receiving the equivalent of €1,700 in aid. 

“We are doing this consciously because we know the moment that we touch energy prices, as had happened prior to 2013 during the Nationalist administration, the ripple effect will have a huge impact on families, industry and businesses,” she said. 

“So we are doing as promised and helping to curb the impact of the rising cost of living in the things that we are able to do as a government and this is not dependent on international factors.” 

Asked whether the drive to keep energy prices down would have an impact on other planned spending, such as planned infrastructure projects announced earlier this year, Dalli again did not answer directly but said that the government will continue to “keep investing in people and make sure that investment continues”. 

“We believe that when you keep energy prices stable, you are also giving impetus to the country’s economy,” she said. 

“We can see this in EU statistics as well. When you compare our rate of inflation to other countries, it remains fairly low and it is also reflected in the economic growth that is predicted for our country.” 

In March, Dalli announced that her ministry would be undertaking two major infrastructure projects: a €40 million transformation of the San Luċjan oil storage facility in Birżebbuġa into a public open space as well as a promised €4 million regeneration project of the Pont tax-Shell area in Birżebbuġa.

Birżebbuġa is in the fifth electoral district in which Dalli was also a candidate during the last general election in March.

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