BEIRUT: Lebanon will experience a spike in electricity cuts this week unless fuel is secured for the country’s power plants within days. The looming crisis comes as the stalled government formation process has paralyzed political action needed to reach a solution.
“Unfortunately, we are looking at the Zouk and Jiyyeh power plants turning off at the beginning or middle of the week,” a source at Electricite du Liban told The Daily Star Sunday.
This would result in the total loss of about 25 percent of Lebanon’s energy production or roughly five hours of state-supplied power a day.
Late last week, EDL already shut down one energy production unit at a plant in Jiyyeh and another at one a plant in Zouk Mikael, reducing the country’s energy output by more than 320 megawatts.
At the beginning of this week, EDL will be forced to shut off the two remaining functional units at the Jiyyeh plant and the one remaining one in Zouk, curbing production by an additional 180 MW or so, the source said.
At this point, about a quarter of Lebanon’s roughly 2,000 MW electricity supply already far below the demand would be gone. “We are trying to be as efficient as possible to be able to keep the units on, even on minimum production, because if they all go off then there’s a technical risk to the energy grid, a risk of blackouts,” the source said.
While exact figures on the increase in power outages are not readily available, the EDL source said that each reduction of 100 MW translated into roughly an hour less of electricity. Although Beirut has been spared any additional power cuts, the rest of Lebanon now has about three hours less on average, soon to be five if a solution is not found immediately.
The current electricity crisis is a result of a failure by the government to secure the fuel oil needed to run the power plants before it entered caretaker status in May. EDL had warned officials of the impending shortage for about a year, the source said.
Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil now requires the approval of Parliament to release the funds needed to buy the nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of fuel needed. No date has yet been set for a legislative session.
“It’s clearly massive negligence – negligence by the political elite and the energy minister for failing to provide the most basic services to the people and find a contingency plan to solve this issue,” Sami Atallah, executive director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, told The Daily Star.
“It’s unacceptable that we have reached a stage where we don’t even have fuel to power our power plants,” he said.
The necessary fuel has been floating just off Lebanon’s coast since Oct. 26 in two large tanker ships owned by Algerian company Sonatrach. But without payment, the company has declined to unload the ships’ cargo.
Caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil told The Daily Star Friday that he was in talks with his Algerian counterpart to try to get the company to give Lebanon the fuel without immediate payment – a “loophole” solution that would end the crisis. No new developments have been announced since then.
Lebanon is also required to pay $30,000 to Sonatrach for each day the tankers remain in waiting, local news channel LBCI reported. The tankers are carrying different types of fuel oil to power not only four Lebanese plants but also two Turkish barges that supply the country with 370 MW of power.
The source said the barges and the power plants in Zouk and Jiyyeh are next in line to be cut if the crisis continues, though a specific deadline for forcing the plants to begin decreasing production was not given.
In a poorly timed development, a lightning strike Sunday morning on a high-voltage power line briefly took power plants in Deir Ammar and Zahrani entirely offline. The strike reportedly occurred between southern Zahrani and Aramoun in Aley.
Though the Deir Ammar plant is in northern Minyeh and the Zahrani plant is in the south, they are connected by the same grid, which is why the shock from the lightning strike affected both. Both plants were up and running again Sunday evening, the EDL source said.