A piece by Stephanie Spicer…

Not too long ago, actually a few days, a student by the name of Stephanie Spicer asked me if I could host a post for her on my blog. Naturally I obliged, and within a few days, I received this document below. And it set me thinking.. how brave are people who face such an upheaval in their lives? I think they are PLENTY brave, and reading her words will make you realise, too, how much home means… so here goes…


Hi. My name is Stephanie, and Chris was nice enough to let me write an article for his blog. 

I am from America. Last summer I came to work at an English school in Malta, and have been living here ever since. People often ask me why I came here, why I chose Malta. It is a crazy story that I sometimes can’t believe myself.

Because my parents are English and German, several people had encouraged me to apply for a European passport. At first I was skeptical. I was in need of a place to go, but Europe seemed far away for a move, and anyway, I had always loved America.

But I began to see drastic changes happening in my country which made me rethink the wisdom of staying there. My résumé mirrored the downward spiral of the economy around me, and I knew that the longer I stayed, the poorer I would be, and if I had children, they would grow up with even less opportunities.

I applied for a German passport, and was able to get it much more easily than I had thought possible. Someone had told me Malta was a good place to live, so one Saturday, I applied to every English school in Malta that I could find on-line.

By Wednesday, I was asked for a Skype interview. On Thursday I had an offer of employment, on Friday I handed in my notice at my job, on Saturday bought my plane ticket, and two weeks later I was on a plane to Malta!

Everything happened so fast that I almost didn’t believe it was real. I didn’t experience culture shock per se—I had been to Europe before, and this wasn’t so different to other places I’d been.

The biggest struggle I had was inside myself.

I had always lived with my family, and learning to live alone, I found, was more than just logistics. It was dealing with such demons as loneliness and silence. I made friends. I enjoyed my job. I loved all the treasures Malta had to discover. But still I sometimes felt so alone and stranded that I wondered why I’d come.

One of the students from the school, with whom I shared housing for a time, was facing a similar dilemma. She was moving to a new city in Germany, away from her family, where it was “cosy.” She said a friend had told her, “You need to make yourself a cosy place in Berlin.”

I came to realise this as well. It surprised me to learn that it was only when things stopped being exciting, and became normal, did I start to feel at home in my new place. I had always loved adventure and discovery, but sometimes, it seems, coming home means little more than a ceasing to strive, a coming to rest….

The point of a journey, is not to arrive…

As I sit at my desk here at home, re-stringing my guitar and humming an old song playing on my (very battered) iPod, I am amazed once again how much music has shaped the way I live and how much it has come to mean to me.

Ever since I was a teeny-weeny tot in my pushchair, music has always been there, just bubbling below the surface of my consciousness, played on the ‘magic-eye stereo’ that my parents owned.

The bands I later on ‘adopted’ as my own, and listened to, have always been there for me ‘psychologically’ , and are probably, one of the only constants in my life on which I could relate to all the time. I happily refer to them as the ‘soundtrack’ to my life.

Many years have passed since the purchase of my very first album, a Deep Purple compilation, something I still recall with extreme satisfaction and thankfulness  Where would I be, or rather, what would I be listening to if it were not for that fateful day around 1974 in Portsmouth and for my late father who gave me the 50p required to own a piece of history?

The many vinyl albums were later re-purchased as tapes for my car, and these, in turn gave way to CDs, which then were transformed themselves into digital music… easy to carry around… I miss the large album covers though.

Turning to look at my CD collection, hundreds of CDs, I am still amazed how this powerful rhythm of music has still got a tenacious grip on me. It is, truly, a wondrous and eclectic collection of music, ranging from Classic Rock, to Power Metal via Operatic, Thrash, Heavy, Progressive, and many others… but always Rock-based.

I wonder how much money I have spent on these albums. Thousands, probably, but I realize with a smile that the journey has been well worth the cost…

My take on cheaper energy using what we have in abundance!

The election race is officially on, and both parties will now be scrambling to point out their stands, and what they will do for the country in the next tenure, if they are entrusted with the people’s vote.

One of the messages that both PL & PN seem keen to support in this election run is the long-awaited overhaul of the energy sector.

Now, I ask, why wait this long to reveal aid for the ailing economy? Why wait for the election pivot to offer some hope for those who are barely managing to get through the month with their wages due in part to the utility bills?

And why, for God’s sake, none of the leaders is promoting common sense in the generation of energy? More about this later, but let’s start with what is my major grumble.

Every six months now, I receive the dreaded energy bill.

My ‘end of summer’ bill reads like a telephone extension, and rarely heads south of 650Euros. Approximately a quarter of that is the cost of water. My ‘winter’ bill is very much better, and rarely crosses the 450 threshold. Again, approximately a quarter of that is attributed to water. A family of four, three of them women, wastes a lot of water.

Explaining this bill is easy. From the end of March to the end of October, the heat permeating from the roof is absolutely unbearable. So sleeping with just a fan is absolutely impossible. Therefore, air-conditioners must be absolutely switched on. Naturally, it is not my pleasure going to work everyday and pausing to check the meter for the amount of electricity we wasted.

Winter, or what passes as winter here in Malta, is a blessed relief for many, but also a curse. Our houses are nowhere near properly insulated. So the torrid heat in summer, and soul-sucking damp in winter is felt in either which way.

Thankfully, on the top floor, the winter does not bother us that much, and we do not even own a heater, let alone use one. The damp is far less topside too, and our house, in winter, is very liveable. Some might disagree, but we all prefer the cooler temperature. It is January, but the sun has been shining every day, and dare I say it? We even sleep with the windows open at night.

But summer is admittedly tough. Especially hard-hit are those, who, like me, live in a first-floor maisonette with the concrete roof straight over their head. I remember in the old days (enjoying summers at my grandparents), that the buildings were far different.

Ceilings were generally higher, thirteen courses rather than the standard ten. I also recall vividly the little chimney-like protuberances on the roofs, which were of course, warm air vents, used in conjunction with ventilators at street level to provide constant air circulation. Where are they now? Nowhere in sight.

Today, just like chickens in a breeding farm, we live in a soulless stone box.

We have also to admit to ourselves as a population, that we are not as thrifty as we should be. Feeling cold? Fire up the heater! Feeling hot? Switch that AC on. Needless to say, we have become ‘plug’ people… There is a solution with a plug on the end of the lead…

But what if… what if we could tackle this problem at the point of being born? At root cause? What if we could devise something that prevented the heat or damp from entering our homes in the first place?

And that is where both parties should come in. Aiding the population with alternate methods of electricity generation AND insulation, rather than expounding on what we have.

The time is already ripe for wind-farming and solar generation. Hell… wind & sunshine is all we have on this island!

So what are the two parties doing to alleviate this immense burden on the population? Because let’s face it… after you pay a month’s wages to taxes and another one to national insurance, forking out more than 30 days wages to energy bills does not seem to appealing. That’s at least a quarter of your year’s salary gone.

PN has come up with the idea of ‘heavy fuel oil’. Let’s take a look at Heavy Fuel Oil properties (also with the help of Wikipedia)

Residual fuel’s (or HVO) use in electricity generation has decreased globally. In 1973, residual fuel oil produced 16.8% of the electricity in the United States. By 1983, it had fallen to 6.2%, and as of 2005, electricity production from all forms of petroleum, including diesel and residual fuel, is only 3% of total production.

The decline is the result of price competition with natural gas and environmental restrictions on emissions.

For power plants, the costs of heating the oil, extra pollution control and additional maintenance required after burning it, often outweigh the low cost of the fuel. Burning fuel oil, particularly residual fuel oil, also produces much darker smoke and uniformly higher Carbon Dioxide emissions than natural gas, which affects the community’s perception of efficiency.

Most of the facilities which historically burned HVO or other residual oils were industrial plants and similar facilities constructed in the early or mid 20th century, or which had switched from coal to oil fuel during the same time period.

In either case, HVO was seen as a good prospect because it was cheap and readily available, even though it provided less energy per volume-unit than lighter fuels.

Most of these facilities have subsequently been closed and demolished, or have replaced their fuel supplies with a simpler one such as gas. The high sulphur content of HVO, up to 3% by weight in some extreme cases — has a corrosive effect on many heating systems, and unless maintenance is strictly kept, usually spells problems.

So one can understand that I am NOT in favour of the HVO solution as provided by the present government. It is cheaper, true, but far more polluting to the environment, and thus, the population.

On the other hand, the PL has come up with a very worthwhile plan. Daring. Very daring. Very practical. Very desirable…. my precioussss….. we wants it… a gas turbine powered plant, pumping electricity at a far cheaper price than what we thought possible.

But… but… I cannot believe it will come to pass… and the fact that it does not is not a slur to the plans that have been touted, but rather for a number of reasons I will explain.

1. The private sector has to fork out over 400 million euros without profits for ten years.

2. The EU has to agree to give us funds cca. 142 million euros for the infrastructure of the supply of natural gas.

3. Natural Gas prices not to change in the next ten years. (When one considers that the main Natural Gas suppliers, Russia and Ukraine, are in precarious political turmoil, I cannot even begin to comprehend this point!)

4. A constant supply of gas has to be adhered to.

5. This bold vision has to take into account the drawing up of plans, evaluation, adjudication, signing up of the contracts, and of course, the building of the infrastructure… all by March 2014. I can’t imagine this happening.

So rather than practically impossible, I come to the conclusion that it is FINANCIALLY impossible to come up with all these promises and make them true. According to Dr.Muscat, the plans have come into contention with help from a Dutch Energy expert. When one considers that the Netherlands has a minimum rate of 22c per unit, I cannot understand why this prophet did not do this homework for his country.

So, in short, I have faith in neither the PN, nor the PL.

So what are my proposals? We have 300 days of sun every year.. EVERY YEAR… and more than 320 days of wind every day of the year.

Can you imagine it? 300 days of sun (and wind) daily?

Practically a whole year of free electricity to everyone. If only the respective governments would help out with personal electricity generation, we would not even NEED new power stations, let alone converting to the environmental hazards of HVO.

Solar panels are still an expensive commodity, and with the recent cut-back on grants, have become the domain of only the rich. So the rich can afford to install them, decreasing their own electricity consumption, and thus, their bills… while the middle and lower class population suffer the ignominy of paying through the nose.

For some insane reason, all the buildings here in Malta have flat roofs, so providing space for photovoltaic cells is easy, and plentiful. Whole schools and factories have practically huge open spaces as big as football fields. What would be the yield from covering the roofs with PV cells? Immeasurable!

And what would the yield do to help the economy of a four-member family with their own roof? I guess it would help many-fold  First would be the generation of the actual power that is paid back at a rate higher than the standard cost. Second, the same panels built on a scaffold-type stand over the roof would mean that the sun’s rays would never get to heat up the concrete screed of the roof. This means less heat downstairs, which in turn means lower consumption, which when coupled with the profit from the generated juice, translates into a lower electricity bill for the family.

OK, some people are already complaining about a lack of roof to help them generate their electricity. (It must be pointed out that families living in ground level have lower bills. FACT!).

I have a couple of proposals that can make that dream happen too.

1. With our weather, 8-10 panels are enough to provide for a decently reduced bill. Ten panels on our roofs take up little space, about the same size as a 4m x 3m wash-room  With the top-dweller’s benediction, but WITHOUT taking up valuable roof space, the neighbours in the apartment below can STILL install PV cells, again, on a stand.

2. PV Solar Farming. Take the same schools and factories, and purchase a share in them.

The main failing in PV cells until now is not only the low rate of efficiency, but also the high cost of purchase. This, to many families, is insurmountable. Ideally, the government helps out with subsidised loans. Not too long ago it was the accepted system, until somebody started to screw around with falsifying the costs.

Typical Maltese… and in typical Maltese fashion, instead of appointing a task-force to pinpoint the proverbial rats in the barrel, the government stopped all aid to those who wished to partake in this endeavour.

Again, I repeat.. cheap, dependable energy for everybody.

I am not going into the advantages of a solar water heater system, which everybody knows its’ worth, or the wind-farming options, which I do not like particularly in residential areas, but a boon in the coastal waters off our islands.

Within 3 or 4 years, the loans would be paid off, and the money saved would remain in the pockets of the people, who would have more buying strength to spend in the shops, continuing a circle of economical growth and prosperity for everyone.