I’m going to go against the grain here, perhaps, but I don’t consider a 45-minute power cut during a storm of the scale we experienced over the past few days as a major national crisis. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the infrastructure to falter under the pressure of exceptional weather conditions that are so particular as to have a name.
Extraordinary weather will be more frequent in the future and therefore less extraordinary. So, I grant you, it is important to be prepared and to have an infrastructure that can take this sort of pressure.
But let’s not please speak of a power cut in a storm as some form of catastrophe.
Shit happens, especially when it rains a lot.
I know of course the 45-minute benchmark is not universal and some areas have suffered more than others. I’m not writing an autopsy report. I’m just trying to distinguish what I’m about to write from the fake outrage of people who post pictures of funeral candles the moment the power is out.
It would be right to feel outrage, however, at being treated like fools by a government that lies because every small disaster is an opportunity to behave like a Super One hack circa 2010.
The official line out of Enemalta – i.e., the government – was that something went wrong with the cable that connects Malta with the Sicilian electricity grid. The “something” remains unspecified. Most of the interconnecting cable rests on the seabed, snugly protected from storms by several hundred metres of sea water. An anchor might snap it, an earthquake might tear it, a tsunami might blow it. But quite what a lot of wind and rain and even rolling sea current might do to it to get it to stop working, temporarily, and then let it come back online again after some time, will need some explanation. This mystery is well beyond my limited capabilities of comprehending complex science.
The PN spokesman for the sector, himself an engineer, accused the government, in stark terms, of lying outright. He explained his science with a logic even I can understand.
Whatever the storm “may” have done to the interconnecting cable, we know what the storm has done to the Electrogas power station, the other source of energy that provides us with power. In-built within the design, such as it is, of the Electrogas plant, there is a flagrant flaw. Whenever storms hit the Marsaxlokk harbour from the direction of the harbour’s mouth, the floating gas storage that the power station uses must disengage from the station and stay at a safe distance from the shore.
We know that’s what happened because we could see it. So, we know that during the storm the Electrogas power station was out of business and the country was relying on the interconnector to Sicily.
It is an eminently reasonable inference then that the energy sucked through the interconnector went, during a particularly cold and damp hour when the other energy source was out of service, beyond the interconnector’s safe capacity.
On that basis there would have been nothing wrong with the interconnector. The power cut would have been a consequence of the design flaw in the Electrogas power station. That power station cannot work when the gregale is emptying its bowels on us. Blaming the interconnector for failing to carry electricity beyond its capacity is like blaming your toilet when it won’t flush the baby you’re trying to get rid of.
Why would the government not say that? Why would they not say ‘look, on the few days a year when we’re being buffeted by north-easterly winds, there’s a chance we’ll have to lose power because that’s just how our electricity supply is set up, and that at least will remain the case until the interconnector gets a twin and then we can happily go on purring even when Electrogas goes offline’?
They can’t say that for the most infantile, partisan reasons. The interconnector which though, like everything man made, is vulnerable to catastrophic events, does not have an inbuilt requirement to shut down when a certain wind hits us, was commissioned by the Nationalist administration of Lawrence Gonzi, which no contemporary Super One hack like Miriam Dalli would concede could have done anything right.
On the other hand, the Electrogas power station, that must take shelter from wet Balkan blitzes, is the brainchild of Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi, which no contemporary state-funded propagandist like Miriam Dalli would concede could have done anything wrong.
Miriam Dalli is now the minister for energy, the incarnate legacy of Miriam Dalli the Super One hack and Miriam Dalli the Konrad Mizzi assistant.
If the power was to go out for an hour in a big storm, I’d use my phone-torch to fetch my stove-top kettle from the back of the cupboard to make a soothing tea while I inspect the windows to make sure no cold draught is leaking in to dissipate the residual heat of the house. In other words, I’d bear it without much complaint.
It’s when the government lies to me that I feel outrage. But let’s hold that for now.
We know the Electrogas power station switched off for a while, while its gas tank swam away. Can Enemalta now please tell us what precisely went wrong with the interconnector? And if it was just a case of temporary overload because Electrogas was cowering from the storm can they have the non-partisan, engineering chops to just come out and say it?
Good luck with that.