Will Lebanon enjoy 21 hours of electricity a day this summer if the energy plan passes smoothly or will this sector continue to crumble? This is probably the first question lingering in the minds of Lebanese who read about the government plan to increase electricity production with great skepticism and ridicule.
The negative comments of the Lebanese on social media reflect the gloomy mood felt by most citizens who wonder why none of the successive governments have been able to end the severe power rationing.
Most Lebanese regions experience 10 to 12 hours of electricity rationing a day and these power cuts increase dramatically in the event of malfunctions in any of the aging plants.
The government initially gave its approval for Energy and Water Minister Cezar Abi Khalil’s plan after lengthy deliberations and remarks, news reports said.
According to Abi Khalil, electricity supplies can increase to 21 hours a day in May this year if more power generating barges are added to the existing ones and two overhauled power plants are activated, the reports added.
Abi Khalil wants to lease two additional power barges from the Turkish company Karadeniz Powership Orhan, which already operates two smaller ships in Lebanon with a total output of 370 MW, the reports said.
The two additional power plants will reportedly generate up to 890 MW at a cost of $340 million a year.
According to the reports, the minister told the Cabinet that this, along with the two overhauled power plants that were completed last year, would increase total electricity supplies to 21 hours a day.
He said all the contracts with the company would be made public for the sake of transparency and to ensure there won’t be any hidden or secret items in the contracts.
The main idea behind the leasing of the barges is to give the Energy Ministry and Electricite du Liban more time to build new power plants that can provide all of Lebanon with 24 hours of electricity in the future.
The 10-year plan also envisions the construction of solar power plants in several areas in the country.
The minister said he received 177 offers from companies to install solar panels, according to the reports.
But Abi Khalil said EDL might have to raise electricity tariffs by 40 percent, arguing that electricity in Lebanon is heavily subsidized by the state-owned company and this is causing a financial deficit in the budget each year, the reports said.
Most or all of the power plants in Lebanon run on fuel and gasoil and these commodities are imported from international oil companies.
Officials say the bulk of EDL’s $1.5 billion deficit is due to the volatile prices of fuel oil in the international markets.
Economists and energy experts have constantly urged the government to revise the current electricity tariffs in order to reduce the deficit.
The International Monetary Fund also called on the Lebanese government to raise the electricity tariffs to narrow the deficit.
Abi Khalil’s plan suggests that the private sector will play a bigger role in the electricity sector through soft loans or partnership with the state.
But the plan avoided the term privatization although the Lebanese Forces strongly advocated incorporating the private sector into the power-production scheme to ease the financial burden on the Treasury, the reports said.
The Future Movement voiced its full support to leasing additional electricity barges from Turkey but on the condition that the tariffs be revised in advance to avoid further financial losses for the Treasury, the reports said.
The reports added that Hezbollah ministers asked Abi Khalil to separate the leasing of the barges from the 10-year plan and aired reservations about the plan to hike electricity tariffs by 40 percent once Lebanon starts enjoying 21 hours of electricity a day.
“First we need to secure 21 hours of electricity a day before increasing the tariffs. We don’t want to burden the poor with additional costs. If you want to revise the tariffs then we should make sure it will not affect the poor class,” reports quoted Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish as saying in Cabinet.
According to the reports, some ministers asked Abi Khalil how much the private sector would charge for the construction of 1,000 MW electricity plants and insisted that all negotiations with firms planning to build plants should be made public.
By Osama Habib
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