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What to remember from Walid Fayad's interview with al-Hurra

The minister finally commented on his visit to Syria a week ago, as part of the Lebanese government's desire to establish an “official relationship” with Damascus.

What to remember from Walid Fayad's interview with al-Hurra

Outgoing Lebanese Minister of Energy and Water Walid Fayad. (Archive photo Dalati Nohra)

Caretaker Lebanese Energy and Water Minister Walid Fayad addressed several topics related to his ministry Monday evening during an interview with the US-funded television channel al-Hurra. The minister raised the issue of Iraqi fuel delivered to Electricité du Liban, the pending future of the operations of the TotalEnergies/Eni/QatarEnergy consortium in Lebanon and Qatar's proposal to build power plants for electricity production in the country.

This latter topic returned to the headlines through caretaker Economy and Trade Minister Amine Salam at the end of May. In a statement, he assured that "the Lebanese political class, the fuel distributor industry and the owners of private generators blocked an offer from Qatar to build three power plants producing renewable energy," totaling 450 megawatts. According to Salam, Qatar made this proposal in 2023 but has not received a response from Lebanon since.

During his interview on Monday, Fayad reaffirmed that Salam reported erroneous facts and that Qatar's proposal was, in reality, for a more modest park which would only provide “15 or 30 minutes of power per day,” deployed via a “build-own-operate” contract. At the end of May, the minister said during a press conference organized after his colleague's statements that Qatar had only proposed building one power plant with a capacity of 100 MW, via a private operator.

He also confirmed that caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati instructed him ten days ago to respond to the Qatari offer.

Before the 2019 crisis and the destruction of the EDL control center by the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut Port explosion, the public supplier estimated that the country needed between 2,700 and 3,300 MW to satisfy its needs. EDL's current fleet of power plants, which only operates in part, provides half of that.

Exploration drilling

Concerning the exploration drilling of the seabed off the Lebanese coast by the TotalEnergies/Eni/QatarEnergy consortium, in two blocks of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Fayad said that there was, for the moment, no “political” reason for stopping operations.

The only entity to have acquired exploration and exploitation licenses issued by Lebanon in two of the 10 blocks of the EEZ, the consortium carried out two drillings that did not produce conclusive results as it found insufficient traces of gas in the well drilled in block 4, opposite Batroun (North Lebanon), and nothing in block 9 (South Lebanon). The minister is still awaiting the final exploration report for this last block.

“I have no intention of withdrawing the drilling license, and the question is not that simple,” stated Fayad, stressing that the consortium had until May 2025 to decide to drill a second well. After this period, the block 9 license will be automatically withdrawn, he added.

Although it expressed interest in the two other blocks located in the far south (8 and 10) of the EEZ, the consortium did not sign the contracts proposed by Lebanon, due to disagreement on certain changes in the terms set by Beirut. Since February, these blocks have been put back into play, but are struggling to attract other companies. The minister told al-Hurra that he had “presented an initiative” to attract more companies, by lowering the minimum threshold for assets of candidate companies to $1 billion instead of $10. “The answer lies in the hands of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati,” he said.

Fayad also maintained that the American mediator, Amos Hochstein, welcomed economic projects aimed at helping Lebanon and that the U.S. intended to play the role of facilitator on these issues as soon as a cease-fire was established. The Gaza war, which broke out on Oct. 7, 2023, spread to southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah and Israel exchange fire daily.

Iraqi fuel

The minister also mentioned the discussions and agreements with Iraq aimed at supplying Lebanon with fuel for its power plants, under conditions adapted to its financial situation. The country is in default on its debt with the balance sheet at the Central Bank showing a financial hole of several tens of billions of dollars.

Fayad told al-Hurra that a meeting was held between Mikati and the Iraqi Investment Authority to discuss reviving a pipeline project connecting the two countries to send Iraqi oil to markets Europeans. “We welcomed this proposal very favorably, but it requires investment and a certain stage of legislation,” he said.

According to the EDL press service that L'Orient-Le Jour contacted, the barter agreement with deferred payment and in Lebanese Lira, which had been in place since 2021 to supply fuel to EDL, is still in place despite delays in execution linked to the reluctance of BDL to open the lines of credit necessary to honor the commitments. EDL, whose tariffs were adjusted at the end of 2022 after some 30 years of freezing by the authorities at an extremely low level, continues to rebalance its finances and catch up on collecting its invoices. The press service added that the public office currently manages to provide around six hours of electricity per day.

The other files

Among the other subjects raised, Fayad stated that discussions to allow the reopening of the thermal power plants of Zouk (Kesrouan) and Jiyeh (Chouf) were underway, noting that Mikati asked the Court of Auditors for an unambiguous opinion on the file, in order to “put an end to the controversy.”

The minister finally commented on his visit to Syria a week ago, as part of the Lebanese government's desire to establish an "official relationship with Damascus with a view to setting up a committee at the highest level headed by Mikati to examine all common issues.

Affirming to have participated in discussions in this framework on the subject of water resources, Fayad incidentally confirmed that the Syrian prime minister told him that the management by the Lebanese government of the question of Syrian refugees "was not serious enough, in due to the absence of an official or a direct representative of the Lebanese state, or even of a committee to deal with this file and achieve the desired results." This issue has become particularly sensitive since April, with the assassination of a local Lebanese politician by a gang from Syria.

He stated that his visit was not in violation of the American Caesar Act, which aims to sanction any government, entity or person that deals with the government of Bashar al-Assad.

This article originally appeared in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.

Caretaker Lebanese Energy and Water Minister Walid Fayad addressed several topics related to his ministry Monday evening during an interview with the US-funded television channel al-Hurra. The minister raised the issue of Iraqi fuel delivered to Electricité du Liban, the pending future of the operations of the TotalEnergies/Eni/QatarEnergy consortium in Lebanon and Qatar's proposal to build...