BEIRUT — With widespread, hourslong electricity blackouts crippling Lebanon, state-owned Électricité du Liban announced Monday that supply will improve after it began to unload two fuel carriers that had been anchored along Lebanon’s coast since last week.
The severe and extended power cuts — even by Lebanon’s standards — were caused by fuel shortages, prompting EDL to ration whatever reserves it had left.
As chronic power cuts plagued Lebanon over the weekend, protests erupted late Sunday night with dozens of demonstrators blocking main roads in the capital.
Protesters blocked roads in the areas of Corniche al-Mazraa, Salim Salam and the ring road in downtown Beirut, using burning tires and overturned waste bins while demanding an increase in power supply.
In a statement, EDL said that it has unloaded “grade A” fuel at the Zouk power plant and will replenish the Jiyyeh plant next.
A gas oil shipment has also made its way to Lebanon the company said, unloading at the Zahrani power plant before making its way to the Deir Ammar station.
The two ships will unload at the Jiyyeh and Deir Ammar power plants, where fuel stocks are running low, once weather conditions allow, the company said.
EDL added that a third tanker, carrying “grade B” fuel oil for the two Turkish power barges at Zouk and Zahrani, is anchored off the Lebanese coast, but will not unload its cargo until a letter of credit has been opened at the central bank.
“The Ministry of Finance paid everything and now they [EDL] have to deal with BDL,” ministry spokeswoman Joy Mourani told L’Orient Today.
Last week, EDL asked the Finance Ministry to initiate the requisite letters of credit permitting the carriers to unload their cargo after the supply of electricity was slashed by about 400 megawatts from a total of 1,400 megawatts.
With no fuel supplier yet found to replace the Algerian firm previously contracted by the state, Lebanon has resorted to immediate purchases of fuel through the spot market.
Such purchases must be made in foreign currency, however — a non-trivial matter after the collapse of the country’s financial system, which owes billions more dollars than it has. Meanwhile, the fuel shortages have exacerbated existing power cuts, piling further hardship on a population already grappling with steep currency depreciation, soaring prices and increased poverty.
Last week, caretaker energy minister Raymond Ghajar said that Lebanon is on the brink of securing a deal with Iraq for the supply of some 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil this year.
Given Lebanon’s lack of hard currency, Iraq has agreed to be paid in local dollars, using the yet-to-be-agreed amount to purchase goods and services within Lebanon.
But Lebanon’s electricity sector is facing a grim road ahead.
Recently, Primesouth, the operations and maintenance company of the Deir Ammar and Zahrani power plants, which produce around 40 percent of Lebanon’s total energy output, sounded the alarm over its inability to operate unless outstanding payments are made.
On Monday, MP Faysal Sayegh (PSP/West Beirut) said on Twitter that the company, which is owed “tens of millions of dollars, wants to be paid in fresh dollars.”
Sayegh sits on Parliament’s energy committee.
Meanwhile, the two floating power plants, supplying around 20 percent of national production since 2013, have also threatened to cease operations before their contract expires in September.
“The two Turkish ships are heading toward withdrawing from Lebanon if they do not receive their dues, amounting to about $160 million, in fresh dollars,” Sayegh said.