Three years ago, a majority of Lebanese citizens complained that they received only ten hours of state electricity supply per day.
Today, those same people are hoping that Electricité du Liban (EDL) will be able to provide even half that, as the situation has significantly deteriorated in the three and a half years of crisis.
As the new year begins, the state-owned supplier will be forced to revert to survival mode by further rationing its already-depleted electricity production.
In a statement issued Wednesday, EDL announced it was forced to shut down its two largest power plants, Zahrani (South Lebanon) and Deir Ammar (North Lebanon) — each with a capacity of 430 megawatts (MW) — due to the depletion of its fuel reserve.
The Zahrani plant stopped operating Wednesday night, while the Deir Ammar plant had already shut down. 6,000 tons of fuel are still stored there for testing by Siemens and Ansaldo on Monday.
In a bid to ensure minimum service — or at least supply some vital institutions and public infrastructures — EDL plans to operate the Zouk (Kesrouan) and Jiyyeh (Chouf) power plants, which use grade A and B fuel. They retain unspecified quantities of these fuels.
This reconfiguration will last a week at most, said the state supplier in its statement. Except for a few lucky people connected to the lines that supply the chosen state institutions — and those who reside near the hydroelectric power plants still in operation — the Lebanese people find themselves without a single hour of state power, until further notice.
Tariffs to rise
Even if EDL had the fuel quantities its power plants need to operate at full capacity, it would not be able to meet the full demand.
Its maximum capacity is approximately 1,500 megawatts, but total demand was estimated at 3,000 megawatts before the crisis. The population is therefore forced to rely on private generators to compensate for this production deficit, which costs citizens a significant sum.
EDL’s rationing has grown extreme over the last two years, due to the gradual suspension of advances from the state treasury used to finance fuel purchases.
The autonomous office needs these advances not only because the revenues collected in Lebanese lira have collapsed — the national currency has depreciated by more than 95 percent since the summer of 2019 — but also because its prices remained unchanged since 1994 when tariffs were set at $23 per barrel.
While the authorities have failed for decades to reform EDL, that was supposed to change last year. In the fall, the caretaker cabinet gave the green light to increase electricity prices, coupled with an increase in supply hours.
Several avenues have been considered to increase production. While the American initiative to transport Jordanian power and Egyptian gas through Syria into Lebanon has yet to materialize, Lebanese leaders appear to have agreed to let BDL open a $62 million line of credit, repayable within a six-month grace period.
66,000 tons of diesel
The funds were to be used to purchase fuel to increase electricity production, as EDL currently relies on meager fuel shipments supplied by an agreement with Iraq.
The credit would be repaid through invoices based on the new tariffs, applicable from Nov. 1 but not collected until late February.
Under this agreement, tenders were authorized to purchase 66,000 tons of fuel. The contract was won in mid-December by Vitol Bahrain E.C., which sent two ships— the first to Deir Ammar on Dec. 15 and the second bound for the Zahrani plant on Dec. 22.
However, these shipments have still not been paid for. The backdrop is a political tug-of-war between caretaker Minister of Energy and Water Walid Fayad on the one hand, and caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati on the other.
These tensions are part of a broader political context pitting the camp of former President Michel Aoun against various opponents, including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, with whom the finance minister is affiliated.
Last week Fayad and Khalil publicly blamed each other for this problem, though all parties seemed to be in agreement when the tenders were launched. EDL was unavailable for comment.
The vessels are still anchored off the coast and each day of delay costs the state $18,000 per boat. According to our calculations, the bill has reached $630,000 to date.
Lebanon will have to make do without its state electricity supply until its leaders come to an agreement. EDL has not received any fuel through its agreement with Iraq since Nov. 20, 2022. The next shipment (nearly 32,000 tons of fuel) is expected to arrive between Jan. 10 and 20, 2023.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.