Lebanon set to have its first wind farm as it faces shortages
Beirut - Lebanon has long suffered from chronic power shortages due to a decaying infrastructure and limited supply produced by its poorly maintained, fuel-powered power plants. This situation may begin to change as the country’s first wind farm project is expected to materialise soon.
Hawa Akkar, a private company developing the first utility-scale project in northern Lebanon’s Akkar region, is planning to harness green wind energy sufficient to power some 60,000 households a year.
In a country that has no oil or gas and lacks sufficient water resources to generate hydro energy, investing in renewable wind and solar energy is a winning bet to Hawa Akkar Chairman Albert Khoury.
“To develop the production of electricity you have to see what natural resources you have,” Khoury said. “If you are Canada, you do hydro. If you are Qatar, you do gas. If you are Saudi Arabia, you do oil. In Lebanon, we don’t have water, we don’t have oil and gas but we have fabulous wind resources and fabulous solar resources.
“The resources are there. We do not need to import them. We cannot build something in the hope that the resource will come, inshallah, as it happened with gas.”
Lebanon built two power plants in Deir Ammar and in Zahrani in the 1990s based on a technology that uses gas, which was supposed to be channelled through pipelines. However, more than 15 years later, the gas has not arrived. The plants that were devised to work on natural gas are functioning on gas oil.
The wind farm project took its first steps in 2008 when Khoury led an experienced team in a study on wind currents in Lebanon. The group determined that the best areas to establish wind farms were concentrated in Akkar, where exists the principal passage of air between Syrian land and Lebanon’s Bekaa plains on one side and the Mediterranean on the other.
“We conducted a measurement campaign of the wind in that area of Akkar and we got the confirmation that the wind patterns in Lebanon are fabulous. Wind power in that specific spot is more than 7 metres per second,” Khoury said.
The Lebanese government estimated the energy potential of Akkar’s wind to be around 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy, requiring about $3 billion of investments in one of the most neglected, underprivileged and poorest regions in the country.
While Hawa Akkar is an environmentally friendly project, it has a huge socio-economic dimension for the Akkar region, which lacks proper infrastructure and services.
“You need everything there,” Khoury said. “Better infrastructure and better roads to transport the huge wind turbines, better services and accommodations for the engineers and workers who will be on the site. The project is expected to bring in much-needed development and economic activity in a long-neglected area, especially in the first period of construction with the creation of hundreds of jobs for the local population.”
“The benefits of the project are huge. You will be producing electricity without polluting the environment, reducing power rationing in the country and creating employment opportunities,” Khoury added.
The farm will use an area of 3 million square metres, will have 20 wind turbines with a production capacity of 60 megawatts, enough to generate power for 60,000 households. The cost, estimated at $107 million, is to be financed by private local and international investors.
Hawa Akkar said wind energy was competitive when compared with traditional forms of power generation in the country, and where the average cost per kilowatt-hour (kwh) is about 17.14 US cents.
“We would be selling electricity to the government much cheaper than the cost they are incurring now to produce power and we will finance 100% of the project,” Khoury said. “There should not be any obstacle to the project as it will be beneficial for both the state and the people.”
While the initial cost of building renewable energy projects could be higher than fuel-based energy ones, the cost of operation is much less and it is not harmful to the environment.
“With renewable sources of energy, be it wind or solar, the cost of production is relatively steady, whereas in fuel energy the cost of production cannot be projected in the long term as it is linked to the fluctuating oil prices. This is among the many advantages of renewable resources,” Khoury explained.
Hawa Akkar expects to produce green wind power within 18 months, once agreements with the government are signed.
After nine years of effort, Lebanon is expected to have its first wind farm up and running. The official procedure is under way and the required laws that will enable the company to start the production process have been approved, Khoury said.
“We are 95% there,” he said. “The signing could happen any time in the next few weeks.”