BEIRUT: Algerian company Sonatrach Monday agreed to provide fuel for Lebanon’s power plants without immediate payment after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri intervened in the issue, speaking with Algerian officials.
The development signals that an end is close to the heightened electricity rationing in place due to the country’s lack of fuel.
A source from Electricite du Liban told The Daily Star Monday that caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil had officially informed EDL that Sonatrach was prepared to supply fuel to Lebanon.
The source said this would begin within the next 24 hours, depending on technical issues.
Two of Sonatrach’s barges, both carrying fuel, have been moored off the country’s coast since Oct. 26 because the Lebanese government – paralyzed as a result of the stalled Cabinet formation process – has been unable to secure the funding to pay for it. The tankers were carrying fuel oil to power not only four Lebanese plants but also two Turkish barges that provide 370 megawatts of power.
Lebanon had to pay $30,000 to Sonatrach for each day the tankers remained in waiting, a senior EDL official told The Daily Star.
Since at least Friday, the energy minister had been 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.
Then, Monday, a statement from the premier-designate’s office said Hariri had spoken with Algerian officials, “which led to the decision to unload the fuel from the two Algerian tanker ships to supply EDL.”
But the fuel from the tankers will supply the power plants for only so long, and the statement said Hariri will continue coordinating with Algerian officials in the coming days to find a permanent solution to the fuel issue.
Legislation to allow caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil to release the more than $420 million necessary to buy the fuel for the power plants is on the agenda for a legislative session of Parliament set for next week – but strangely it is listed as 33rd out of the 38 items.
If the solution to the fuel issue is temporary, so is the alleviation of the heightened power cuts.
Monday’s announcement came a day after an EDL source warned that this week the Zouk and Jiyyeh power plants would be shut off and that electricity cuts would spike by two additional hours if fuel was not immediately secured.
But following Monday’s developments, Abi Khalil said in televised remarks: “We assure the Lebanese people that there will be no power cuts like it was rumored, and today the fuel ships that are facing the Jiyyeh and Zouk plants will unload. The needed fuel shipments will also follow.”
Even so, Lebanese people have already been dealing with three hours less of electricity, owing to a more than 320 megawatt cut to the power supply tied directly to a lack of fuel.