BEIRUT: A power barge operated by Turkish company Karadeniz Holding that is supposed to leave Lebanon this week, will stay until at least early next week, providing electricity for two to three more days, the company said Wednesday.
The barge, the Esra Sultan, docked in Lebanon on July 18 and, according to a Cabinet decision on May 21, was meant to remain for three months.
That deadline expires Thursday.
The barge was given to Lebanon for “free,” according to caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil, during negotiations for the extension of contracts for two other barges that the company has operated in the country since 2013. They are part of a "temporary" solution to Lebanon’s chronic energy issue.
“As of today, [the] Esra Sultan will remain in Zouk [Mikael] and generate electricity until fuel onboard, provided by [Electricite du Liban], is consumed. This means an additional two or three days of electricity generation,” Karadeniz told The Daily Star in a statement.
“After the fuel is consumed, [the] Esra Sultan will need another couple of days to disconnect from the grid and get ready for its departure from Lebanon, depending on marine and weather conditions.”
A representative of Abi Khalil told The Daily Star that the Esra Sultan would be leaving Monday.
Kesrouan MP Roger Azar, who represents a region benefiting from the barge, told The Daily Star that while the barge should, according to the Cabinet decision, leave “today or tomorrow ... there is a possibility, if the barge’s owners decide, to leave it in Lebanon for an extra period of time until the government is formed.”
“There have been meetings about this option leaving it for an extra period including with Abi Khalil,” Azar said, adding that it was the company that floated the idea of the extension. Azar said he thought the barge should stay because of the extra hours of electricity it provided.
“It would be a shame for us to be deprived of this,” he said.
The mayor of the coastal town of Zouk Mikael, where the barge is docked next to its sister vessel the Fatmagul Sultan, agreed.
“We have not been informed of its departure, and we think that it’s going to stay. We want it to stay because it’s giving us extra electricity up from 12 hours a day to around 21,” Mayor Elias Baino told The Daily Star.
Although the power barge has provided residents with significant increases in electricity, its output has been lowered by limitations to Lebanon’s power grid as well as by the refusal of the Amal Movement to allow the barge to dock in Zahrani, in the country’s south.
For almost its entire stay in Lebanon, it has been able to provide only 30-120 megawatts out of its more than 200 MW capacity, a source at EDL told The Daily Star.
The “vast majority” of the power, moreover, went to only three areas: Kesrouan and some parts of Jbeil and Metn. Only a “very small” amount went to the rest of the country, the source said.
“At EDL, all steps we are taking and the information we have is based on the barge leaving. If there are any other steps being taken, we have nothing to do with that. We don’t have any information to suggest it is not leaving,” the source said.
Abi Khalil has left open the door for the barge’s stay to be extended by Cabinet.
But five months in, no government has been formed to make that decision, and Karadeniz, which has failed to get more barges into Lebanon via a thrice-invalidated tendering process, is on the cusp of losing a barge that sailed in without going through that layer of oversight.
If a move was made to extend Esra Sultan’s stay, it would be extremely controversial due to perceived corruption and favoritism by some parties, including the Free Patriotic Movement and some Future Movement officials, toward Karadeniz.
The controversy stems largely from the fact that Karadeniz was the only company to meet the qualification requirements to tender for the FPM-controlled Energy Ministry’s emergency electricity plan three times in a row.
As a result, the Tenders Department invalidated the whole process each time, saying the Energy Ministry’s tender documents, which set the criteria for tendering, were found to have been tailored to a single company.
Most recently, a fourth iteration of the same emergency electricity plan hit a roadblock. The tender documents were found to violate a May Cabinet decision calling for the criteria to be widened to allow for land-based solutions in addition to sea-based ones, a source at the Tenders Department told The Daily Star.
Karadeniz could be looking to extend the Esra Sultan’s stay for as long as possible in hopes that a government that is formed would then extend the barge’s stay.
This may be true especially given the positivity that various political factions have expressed over Cabinet formation in recent days.
“Having the barge here is definitely in the interest of the company and some Lebanese entities,” Jessica Obeid, an energy fellow at Chatham House, told The Daily Star. “I can say that, in Lebanon, temporary solutions that actually prove to remain temporary are the rarest thing I have seen.”
Commenting on the fact that many Lebanese have voiced support for extending the Esra Sultan’s stay on a paid basis, Obeid said, “Of course. It has given people a taste of something so that they go ahead and ask for it themselves.”
“I hope that [the barges] do not get the people to demand these kinds of mechanisms, these instant solutions. I oppose the rental mechanism barges or other considering Lebanon is on the verge of an economic collapse.
“The high debt [to] GDP ratio of 150 percent should point us to think more sustainably, and we do have local solutions that can do that,” she said.