Lebanon’s electricity problem: More obstacles on the road

As summer approaches, more pressure is expected on the network, with increasing demand and less supply.
Sunday 06/05/2018
Electricity pylons are seen in Sidon in southern Lebanon. (Reuters)
Where outages are the norm. Electricity pylons are seen in Sidon in southern Lebanon. (Reuters)

Lebanon’s power sector serves as one of the most flagrant examples of the consecutive cabinets’ failures to locate and implement solutions. It has cost the Lebanese government an estimated $2 billion, yet the country lacks 24/7 power supply. As summer approaches, more pressure is expected on the network, with increasing demand and less supply.

Besides the frustration that the failure has produced at the popular level, proposed plans are criticised by a cross-section of political parties and energy experts. Lebanese Minister of Water and Power Cesar Abi Khalil has insisted that the only solution available is leasing gigantic power-generating ships instead of constructing new power plants.

The deal, refused by the Central Inspection Board for its lack of transparency, was refuted by two big political parties represented in the cabinet, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).

The latter prepared a comprehensive study about the sector and its rehabilitation projects and presented it to the cabinet. It considered that “any attempt to resolve this crisis must commence through drastic reform steps in the electricity institution and the sector as a whole. Investment in the sector without reform is futile and will lead to additional squandering of funds.”

The party proposed several steps, beginning with appointing a new board of directors for Electricite du Liban (EDL). Jobs need to be filled as 50% of the positions in the electricity sector are vacant. There has been little monitoring of contracts the board implements and numerous other administrative problems.

“The possibility of creating two new electrical power plants with the capacity of 500 megawatts each is possible and can be put into service in June 2020,” said power expert Mounir Yehia, who participated in drafting the PSP plan.

It called for “expanding the spread and adoption of alternative (renewable) energy and its distribution to the Lebanese consumer through the exchange of energy with the network and good billing based on modern systems instead of the current Net Metering and customs exemption of imported equipment for this purpose.”

In electricity, an initial reduction of 50% of losses in 2018 through the commitment to address technical and non-technical losses and the implementation of administrative reforms are essential to revive the electricity sector. Commitment to achieve financial balance by the beginning of 2020 by reducing the total electrical losses (technical and non-technical) from the high level (50%) to no more than 12% must be an attainable goal, the PSP plan stated.

The issue of electricity and waste has led much of the Lebanese public to consider the entire political community as competing parties incapable of running the country’s affairs. Protesters took to the street in large numbers a couple of years ago to induce change.

Little has happened since. Various NGOs that emerged out of popular protests turned into contending and competing groups themselves, repeating the examples of the parties they accused of being incapable of resolving accumulating problems. Many ran to the parliamentary elections in a bid for change and reform.

With parliamentary elections paving the way for a new political phase, electricity will remain a hot topic for the new cabinet.