Monday, 2 August 2010

To Power Up or not to Power Up? Where should Electrical Power be Sourced?

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.


  1. Quote:

    "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 ESG do their homework and I am with them on this one, why not spend our money (Gibraltar is "rolling in it" after all)on something that in the long-run is going to save us a LOT of money. We are surrounded by natural resources so let's use them and set an example.

  2. Difficult to find topics to write about? How about today's news of Sissarello suing Panorama for libel? Time we had a press complaints body, do you think?

  3. Having recently read the ESG`s statement I tend to agree with their assesment on the missed oportunity with the new terminal and a solar paneled roof. At some point the govt has to grab the bull by the horns with regard to renewable energy. Many other opportunities have also been missed with the many large scale developments that have gone up over recent years. Our being able to produce some of our energy requirements from renewable sources would have some baring on the size (and cost) of a new power plant.

  4. No solar-panelled roof in new terminal? Unbelievable.

  5. I am told that there is a case pending in court brought by the owners of the Clifftops against the building of the power station at Lathbury Barracks. All I know apart from that is that their lawyer is Charles Gomez. Does anyone have details of how that case is going and what is the complaint about.

  6. Why not have an agreement with Morocco. A cable link could provide some of our power supply.

    AS for topics what about rising crime in Gib; it is not as save a place as we think it is. And what about La Linea's mayor antics, and our response?

  7. Somewhat off topic I know , but a thought has just occurred to me. Michelle Obama is on holiday in Marbella. Is Gibraltar in a fit state for a visit from the First Lady? I think not, Gibraltar has been a construction site for more than 20 years and now more than ever looks an unholy mess. The rubbish heap which the government pretends is a land fill at Eastern Beach Road says it all, go to Devil's Tower Road, Europa Point, Queensway, everywhere there is mess and in the rest of town traffic chaos. We who have had to endure the manic planning "policies" of successive governments no longer realise just how shoddy Gibraltar has become.

  8. There should be a mass demonstration against EPMV's project and the dolphinarium. It sounds as if this company is determined to go ahead over Gibraltar public opinion and its experts. Commercial arrogance?

  9. I would suggest people in general as well as Mr. Vazquez to read the full text of the ESG statement which can be found at

    The statement that came out in the chronicle was not an accurate reflection of the statement. I trust most questions raised will be answered by the points made in the full statement.

  10. Anon: 08:38 ,

    I agree with your sentiments that Gibraltar is looking like a huge mess with so much construction going on. But who cares about what the first lady thinks?

    Is the U.S in a fit state for anyone to visit considering in the past 10 years they have invaded two countries and killed millions of innocent people. Considering the amount of murders, drugs, and general decadence that goes on in the U.S it would be very surprising if our homely place would be deemed unfit.

  11. "Is Gibraltar in a fit state for a visit from the First Lady?"

    That's a good question and possibly a good title for a separate forum.

    "Is the U.S in a fit state for anyone to visit considering in the past 10 years they have invaded two countries and killed millions of innocent people?"

    That's an even better one.

  12. This idea is not a new one infact as far back as 1986 a paper was prepared by the then Government.

    Also the deal does not need to be made with Spain it should be made with the supplier to Spain, France. True Spain or la sevillana would transport or connect us to the Franch Grid. This would be a better agreemnet and would take the sting of the Political question.

    Lastly we could have a standby Generator in case of problems and in five years support other energy installations like solar wind etc enough to see us through. The catchments could be a great source of solar energy.

  13. Robert

    Had I known yesterday that you had written about this topic (the new power station and options for Gibraltar)on your blog we could have discussed the matter in detail from a technical and commercial point of view.


    The whole area looks good and works for vehicular traffic.

    BUT the Ragged Staff/Picadilly area has become a nightmare for pedestrians.An accident waiting to happen. More unsafe than before.


    There are no pedestrian crossings in Ragged Staff nor Picadilly Area (Not even railings to prevent pedestrians from crossing into dangerous thouroughfare!)

    One would have thought that after so many months of planning,pedestrians'safety would be high on the agenda !

    Rumour has it that security railings were removed on orders from a high ranking politicion.




  16. The case for a stand by generator being made in one of the comments is completely non sensical. A stand by generator for the energy demands of Gibraltar is in fact the new power station. The current three ageing power stations can barely keep up with demand so what capacity for the back up power station does he have in mind? Surely the design for a back up power station would need to be Gibraltar's peak demand. People who make some of these comments seem to also forget that our drinking water is made in reverse osmosis desalination plants that also ran on electricity. So by connecting to Spain we would be completely dependant on Spanish goodwill in allowing electricity through the wire for all of our electricity and water demand. I wonder who in Gibraltar would trust Spain on this? although if you happen to have a second home in Sotogrande then I suppose this might be a lesser concern.
    I therefore totally support the full ESG statement on this issue.

  17. Anon @ 13.48

    If you have ever seen a bear or tiger pacing it`s cage or a dolphin or whale bobbing up and down in a pool you would know that these are wild animals on the verge of going mad. Wild animals do not belong in captivity and while captive facilities were the only way to offer the public access to these magnificent animals some years back, today this is no longer the case.

    As a result of campaigning around the world dolphinariums are now in decline with the UK leading the way where there are NO such facilities in operation.

  18. replying back to the ESG supporter on having a back up generator not enough and then bursting into those having a home in Soto please let me reply.

    Firstly in defence of those people who have homes in Soto at least in the main do not have a council flat in Gib. And I am assured five times more people live in other parts of Spain than Soto.

    Thirdly I was only stating a fact not supporting it and I realise one generator would not be enough, but as mentioned other sources of energy could be found and over a five year period we could reduce the dependency on the French supply.

    Lastly the present supplier is willing to invest and carry on the same deal as now.
    Why get into more debt??