A new debate was started last week by an odd source, the Chamber of Commerce has bravely suggested that Gibraltar should purchase some of its electrical power from other shores. Opposition to this suggestion has come, also from an odd source, the Environmental Safety Group (ESG).
Despite the oddity of the origins of this debate, it is certainly one that needs to be had. The alternative options available, including purchasing from abroad, are matters that Government, Opposition and others should give careful and pragmatic thought to before rejecting any on political, emotional, populist or opportunist grounds. It is not a subject about which I can profess any expert knowledge but one to which I have given some thought, over a period of time, as a layman. For what it is worth, here is my contribution to the debate.
Presently there is an adequate supply electrical power. I understand that there are issues arising from increased demand, the sustainabibilty of the present generating capacity and its compliance with environmental requirements. The long and the short of it is that a new supply needs to be found.
I understand one consideration to be that, by 2013 or thereabouts, there is a requirement that 20% of electrical supply must come from sustainable cources. The ESG discard wind power and suggest that our government should look at generation of electricity by harnessing tides. Whatever the solution might be, this all sounds like a costly affair for such a small territory.
The other major cost is the outlay that is needed to actually build an oil powered generating station; in the the articles that I refer to it is put at approximately £100,000,000. This is a massive expenditure for such a small territory. I must say I have sympathy with the Chamber of Commerce on the arguments that they make in this regard.
I see the ESG's arguments centring on the fact that the present generating capacity is not compliant with environmental norms. I have no reason to doubt them but nor am I an expert that can give that statement any credence. I base my argument accepting the truth of the ESG's factual exposition. The ESG seems to have cottoned on to the fact that the Chamber of Commerce has suggested continuing with the existent non-compliant generating capacity. I do not believe that this is viable; one day or another compliance will be sought.
Another argument is a strategic one. It goes that Gibraltar should not become reliant on Spain for such a basic commodity as its supply of electricity. This argument is historic and outdated. Gibraltar's economy is greatly reliant, already, on an open frontier and on cross-border telecommunication. These are reliant, in turn, on having a modern relationship with Spain based on principles of law and comity applicable throughout Europe. We must retain our confidence in such arrangements in today's world.
More so when in reality our electrical power in essence comes from Spain today. I can already hear the gasps of incredulity. Yes readers, I understand that the fuel that runs our power stations is fuel that arrives from Spain. Based on that analysis our electrical power is relaint on Spain already.
Agreed, today in a crisis situation, I imagine, there will be fuel reserves to tied us over it whilst alternative seaborne fuel can be imported. If there were to be full reliance on Spain for electrical power in the future that would preclude us from having this alternative source. This is something that needs careful thought and serious consideration.
My answer (and electrical engineers may want to correct me) is that, surely, it should not be beyond the wit of engineers to devise a power supply for Gibraltar to supply average consumption that would be smaller and cheaper than the projected new power station. Any excess production of such a power station during periods of low demand could be marketed and sold to the European Grid. The revenue from such sale could be used to part pay for power bought in from that same source when there is peak demand. It may even be possible to buy in this supply from sustainable sources and in this manner meet the 2013 deadline at an affordable cost.
This solution leaves Gibraltar partially exposed to the strategic downside of placing some reliance on Spain. I would have thought that it would be possible to make contingent arrangements to have additional power capacity, in the form of temporary generators, imported by ship to cater for that eventuality, were it to transpire. Such an arrangement would tide Gibraltar over until a permanent solution could be found in the unlikely eventuality that any crisis is provoked by Spain at any time in the future.
Some people have been asking for a more interesting piece from me. I hope this meets these requests. I would remind everyone that we are in August and have just finished July, which is the silly season, so it is difficult to find topics to write about.