Malta risks facing fresh infringement procedures over the Marsa power station, European Commission sources said, even though a definite decision by the College of Commissioners is not expected until “a few more months”.

Commission officials who spoke to The Times said it was too early to speculate about the timing of infringement procedures.

The officials were asked to comment on the state of play a day after Enemalta Corporation conceded that three of its four plants at Marsa exceeded their 20,000-hour life span, a concession granted to Malta before EU accession in 2004 to allow the plant’s phasing out.

“Malta has not yet officially notified us about the situation. Once this arrives, and the summer recess is over, the Commission will examine the situation and have talks with the Maltese government,” one official said.

“However, it is clear infringement procedures will be launched as there seems to be a clear violation of the Large Combustion Plants Directive, even though this needs to be verified.”

When asked, however, an official spokesman for the Commission did not want to enter into the issue of possible infringement, sticking to a conservative reply. He would only say no notification had arrived as yet and the Commission would only look into the issue in September.

“At this stage, the Commission has not been provided with any evidence of a breach of EU environmental law and no infringement procedure is open. We expect to receive further information from the Maltese authorities in September,” the spokesman said curtly.

To give Malta as much time as possible to start producing cleaner energy, the Commission had negotiated a transition period to phase out the Marsa power station, considered to be obsolete when it comes to emission levels.

Although two multimillion euro projects – the extension of the Delimara power station and the interconnector cable with Sicily to import electricity directly from the continent – are under way, these will not be ready until the end of next year, forcing Enemalta to keep using the Marsa plant in breach of EU laws.

Earlier this year, the government had sounded the alarm over the situation, with the Finance Ministry indicating that the 20,000-hour time limit was fast clocking up, hinting an extension could be sought. However, soundings with Brussels indicated this was not possible and the government in fact did not even make a formal request.

Despite the possible start of EU legal procedures, Malta will most probably be able to scrape through the prevailing situation without incurring any extra costs or fines because such procedures could take longer than the end of 2012 to conclude. By that time, Malta should have everything in place to shut Marsa once and for all.

This is not the first time the Marsa power station has been in the EU’s radar. In 2007, Brussels had taken Malta to court over the lack of emission monitoring equipment at the plant.

Following a judgment against Malta by the European Court of Justice in 2009, the plant was equipped with a new emission monitoring station.

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