Fuel shortages force closure of Lebanon’s main power plants News

Deir Ammar and Zahrani power plants stop operating as a result of running out of diesel, sparking occasional protests.

Beirut, Lebanon – The two major power stations in Lebanon that have suffered a crisis have gone out of commission, effectively blocking all state electricity in the country.

The closure of the Deir Ammar and Zahrani plants on Saturday, which have produced very limited electricity in recent months, occurred due to a shortage of diesel fuel, sources said.

Halba residents in the northern province of Akkar protested at the regional office of the state-run Electricite du Liban (EDL) producer. In nearby Tripoli, angry residents blocked roads with cars and burned tires after power cuts exacerbated water shortages.

“There is no limited fuel and production, so the variation in frequency is blurring the grid,” Marc Ayoub, an energy researcher at the Beirut University of America Issam Ticket Institute, told Al Jazeera. “It’s happened about 16 times over the past two weeks because production is too small compared to what is needed for the grid to reach stability.”

EDL has been generating less than 200 megawatts of electricity.

Local media said authorities were scrambling to secure fuel from their reserve stock to partially reintroduce state electricity to several affected areas.

EDL said in a statement that fuel load will arrive on Saturday night and will be unloaded early next week to raise the capacity of power plants to 500 megawatts. Another fuel load of the Iraq deal will arrive later this month. EDL, meanwhile, said it is communicating with oil facilities in Tripoli and Zahrani to buy some fuel to supply the power plants for the next few days.

The development comes in Lebanon’s ongoing electricity crisis about a week after two floating Turkish powerboats off the coast stopped producing power after the government’s contract ended.

EDL continues to struggle financially to secure fuel to run its power plants. Throughout the year, it has relied on cash advances from the central bank and other stopgap measures to remain active.

Lebanon’s ongoing electricity woes have exacerbated an overwhelming economic and financial crisis that plunged three quarters of the population into poverty and devalued Lebanese pounds by nearly 90 percent.

The fuel crisis has paralyzed much of public life, forcing much of the population to rely almost entirely on expensive private generators to keep the lights on. Hospitals have struggled too, fearing the safety of their patients.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah has transported shipments of Iranian fuel to the country via Syria through illegal border crossings. Meanwhile, the Lebanese government continues to talk to its Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian counterparts to implement a plan that would provide electricity to the country through Egyptian natural gas.

Lebanon has also secured an exchange agreement with the Iraqi government for high sulfur fuel in exchange for medical services, whereby Lebanon would then exchange the fuel with a supply compatible with its power plants.

Lebanon’s inefficient electricity sector is also extremely expensive. In a May 2020 submission to international donors, the government estimated the electricity sector costs about $ 1.6bn in public funds each year, though some reports say it can bleed up to $ 2bn. That’s about 3 percent of the country’s entire economy, and experts have told Al Jazeera that it accounts for nearly half of the country’s cash-strapped public debt.

However, any serious reform has been hampered by corruption and privileged interests among a handful of the country’s political parties, according to the experts.

Recently appointed Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said one of his priorities was to resolve the country’s overwhelming fuel crisis, and resume negotiations for a program approved by the International Monetary Fund to restore the country’s battered economy.