Lebanon electricity crisis heats up as summer nears

By Junaid Salman in Beirut

Lebanese power stations, including this one in Aley, are not producing sufficient electricity to keep up with the national demand. [Junaid Salman/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanese power stations, including this one in Aley, are not producing sufficient electricity to keep up with the national demand. [Junaid Salman/Al-Mashareq]

With the approach of summer and the accompanying increase in electricity consumption, Lebanese citizens tell Al-Mashareq they are anticipating once more bearing the burden of added costs.

Though more than 11 different electricity plans were developed for Lebanon between the late 1980s and 2010, the electricity crisis remains unresolved and power is still not available 24 hours a day, they said.

In some parts of Beirut, power is only available 10 hours a day, residents tell Al-Mashareq, and a private generator subscription is needed to bridge the gap.

A Mount Lebanon business owner told Al-Mashareq he pays about $300 a month for government-supplied electricity via Electricité du Liban (EDL), in addition to a monthly bill for subscription to a private generator.

This ranges between $500 and $600, depending on the number of hours needed.

Lebanon needs 3,000 megawatts to cover electricity consumption, though power production and purchases combined have not exceeded 1,500 megawatts.

If it were not for the power generation barges, available power would not have exceeded 1,100 megawatts, which would mean rationing electricity to 15 hours a day, all year round.

Extraordinary measures

Delays in implementing an electricity plan that will resolve the issue have forced the Energy and Water Ministry to take extraordinary interim measures, Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said at an April 26th cabinet meeting.

Demand for electric power has risen by an estimated 500 megawatts as a result of the Syrian refugee crisis, according to a UN Development Programme study.

"Political polarisation continues to govern this issue, and there is a decision to freeze it until the new government is formed," An-Nahar journalist Maurice Matta told Al-Mashareq.

"The political team overseeing the Ministry of Energy is currently set on purchasing power from barges as a temporary solution until the new plants are constructed and can bridge the shortfall between production and consumption," he said, noting that some object to this approach.

"In the summer, consumption rises to more than 3,000 megawatts, while the maximum output that can be produced is 1,700 megawatts," he said.

Resolving the electricity issue was one of the key demands made of the Lebanese state at the Cedre conference by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor countries.

They stressed the importance of reforming the sector to stop the annual waste of up to $2 billion.

Draining financial resources

The electricity dilemma of is one of the biggest problems facing Lebanese businesses, as it drains their financial resources, said Fouad Zmokhol, president of the Association of Lebanese Business People in the World.

Money is channeled to buying and upgrading electricity generators which diverts funds that could be invested in other equipment and in hiring employees, he told Al-Mashareq.

"We are no different from citizens and pay two electricity bills to get power," he said. "These costs weaken the competitiveness of Lebanese industry."

Zmokhol said in his view the only way to reform the sector is to "privatize it through a partnership between the public and private sectors".

This was proposed as the Cedre conference, he said, and would involve the state retaining ownership of the sector, which would be run by private Lebanese companies.

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