Italy yesterday approved the building of an electricity interconnector between Malta and Sicily but the Maltese Government has agreed to pay €600,000 to compensate for the environmental impact.

The Italian Economic Development Ministry took the final decision on the project during a hearing yesterday.

It followed a long consultation process involving the regional government in Sicily and the Comune di Ragusa, where the 200MW cable will be linked on the Sicilian side.

Within 20 days the final permit will be issued and work on the interconnector – a crucial element in the Government’s energy plans – can get underway.

The project had become the target of fresh protests in recent weeks by the Movimento Territorio Ragusa, an environmental group associated with the Ragusa province, which announced it planned to mount fierce opposition to it.

Only two days ago, the Comune officially said it had no objection to the project, with 18 votes in favour and nine against.

However, it also asked for a compensation of €600,000 for the environmental impact, which Enemalta said had been agreed to.

When news of the protest broke, the Finance Minister expressed confidence that the project would go through as there were assurances from the highest levels of the Italian Government that it was being viewed as strategic.

Mr Fenech had also argued that the protestors were mistaken over the environmental impact, which, some claimed, would disturb a bay where the cable would be installed in Ragusa.

He said the interconnector infrastructure there would be underground and the zone earmarked was located in an area that already had a water treatment plant.

Over the past weeks, The Times attempted to contact one of the more vocal protestors, former Ragusa mayor Nello Dipasquale, but he has not replied to questions.

200 megawatts at €200 million

The interconnector is a €200 million project, partly funded by the EU, which, by the end of 2014, should see Malta connected to the European electricity grid.

The project, which is now a feature in the electoral debate on Malta’s energy plans for the future, is essentially an electricity cable capable of delivering 200 megawatts, linking Magħtab to Ragusa in Sicily.

In December 2010, the Government signed a €182 million deal with French company Nexans to lay the cable.

On the Maltese side, a five-kilometre tunnel is being bored between Magħtab and Kappara, and the cable will eventually be hooked up to the distribution centre there.

The permit process from the Italian side has seen delays but there has been consistent commitment from its Government.

In December, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Giulio Terzi told his Maltese counterpart, Francis Zammit Dimech, that the permits would be issued by the beginning of February.

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