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French Version

Tabourian : 'No quick solutions' to power woes

Tabourian: 'No quick solutions' to power woes
Former edl researcher takes issue with energy minister's assessment

Most areas in Lebanon have been experiencing severe power rationing over the past few weeks as Electricite du Liban (EDL), the state-owned electricity company, has been unable to deliver regular power supplies to millions of electricity subscribers.

In many parts of the country, electricity rationing exceeds 20 hours a day, prompting many consumers to rely on private generators. Most owners of private generators have recently hiked their monthly subscription charges, citing rising fuel costs of more than 50 percent since the beginning of the year.

An average household outside the capital, which enjoys more than 20 hours of electricity, would pay more than $80 a month for five amps of electricity from generators and, if the citizen decides to bolster consumption, the monthly bill will likely exceed $160.

"We are paying two bills a month. One for EDL and another for the private generator owners who seize the golden opportunity to hike prices," one consumer told The Daily Star.

Even some private generator owners have started implementing their own electricity rationing, claiming that the generators may break down if they function more than 12 hours a day.

Alan Tabourian, the newly appointed Energy and Water Minister, said that he fully understands the agony of the citizens but admits that "there are no quick solutions of the electricity problems."

Speaking to The Daily Star, the minister, who promised to deliver a comprehensive plan to tackle the mounting problems of electricity, summed up the problems with six words: "We consume more than we produce."

Tabourian said that the current electricity production in Lebanon is less than 1,600 megawatts per hour, while the country's consumption habits require much more power.

He added that even if fuel oil became more available, the country would continue to experience electricity rationing, especially during summer.

Tabourian was commenting on the decision of the new Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah to open two letters of credit for the amount of $129 million to buy two shipments of fuel to run the existing power stations.

The new shipments of fuel oil are expected to partially reduce the severe power rationing in the coming few days but the problem is far from over, according to energy experts.

The experts agree that Lebanon needs to build more power plants and modernize its existing ones.

"We are exploring several alternatives to fix the problems of electricity. But I don't expect a quick solution unfortunately," Tabourian said.

He suggested one of the alternatives for the time being is to revise the electricity rationing program across the country.

He added that the cost of fuel oil represent more than 70 percent of the total losses accrued by EDL each year.

The minister feared that the losses of EDL may exceed $1.5 billion at the end of the year if the price of oil remained high.

The Finance Ministry disclosed last month that the total deficit of EDL in the first five months of 2008 had reached more than $666 million which put a further strain on the country's budget deficit.

Tabourian strongly believes that the state is heavily subsidizing the electricity tariffs.

"Those who consume electricity more than the average consumer must be treated accordingly," he said.

Officials claim the actual cost of electricity should be four times more than the current rates, as the price of oil was $25 a barrel five years ago and has risen to over $133. The price of electricity has remained unchanged over the same period.

Ziad Hayek, the president of the Higher Privatization Council, said the electricity tariff structure needs to be revised.

"Minister Tabourian has a very good idea for how to revise the tariff structure," Hayek told The Daily Star.

He described the current government electricity subsidies as "purely chaotic."

"This chaotic subsidy has allowed the rich people to benefit more from the poor people and this simply unfair," he said.

He also supported the idea of allowing the private sector to be more involved in future plans to build power plants.

"I am not talking privatization of electricity at this stage because it is very difficult. But we can ask private companies to build the power stations and sell electricity directly to the consumers," Hayek said.

Experts stress that Lebanon needs more than $2 billion of investment in electricity in the next five years.

But Chafic Abi Said, the former director of research at EDL, rejects the explanations of ministers and officials.

"Yes there are quick solutions. Let them start cracking down on those who are stealing electricity and reduce the technical problems. If we fixed these problems then we can save 30 percent at least from the total energy bill," Said added.

Other solutions proposed by Said are to speed up the delivery of the Egyptian natural gas run Lebanon's power plants and to encourage consumers to install solar panals.

Beirut 23-07-2008
The Daily Star

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