The disastrous Électricité du Liban (EDL) is unable to keep up with the country’s demands for power – a crisis exacerbated by fuel prices – so Jordan and Egypt are lending a helping hand. It is a travesty that a country so rich with water cannot find the long-term will to harvest hydraulic energy to supplement its needs (or provide clean drinking water! – but that is another story).
But of course, it already has been done with even more disastrous results. al-Barid Electricity Company (شركة كهرباء البارد), involving the Khuri family, has a concession from the Lebanese government to operate a small hydraulic power plant which supplies villages in the north with electricity.
In 2004, al-Barid’s workers went on strike to demand some overdue payments. The company at the time claimed that EDL owed it money which needed to be payed before it could pay its employees. It turns out that the company actually owes money to the Lebanese government. The company has not paid its dues since 1995, thereby breaking the law that grants it the concession. When in 2007 Salim Nakat, head of concessions at the Ministry of Energy & Water, tried to get the company to pay its dues, he was removed from his post by Muhammad Safadi – then acting Minister of Energy & Water, today Minister of Economy and Trade. Apparently, Mr. Safadi had electoral considerations.
The issue with al-Barid Electricity has been standing at least since 2002 and so have others, such as Aley Electricity and Jbayl Concession, both for power distribution. If the suspicions are/were well-founded – and it is so in the case of al-Barid – the crisis at EDL and the exorbitant amounts spent on power (25% of GDP) are partly the result of money being funneled into private pockets.
Another reason is discussed in a well-documented paper prepared by the Lebanese Communist Party (in Arabic). $1.38 bn were spent on setting up gas powered plants after the civil war and they remain since their completion in 1999 without gas supply. $370 million a year is being wasted by using fuel instead.
So, EDL is being undermined by its parent Ministry (Amal, Hizballah, and Safadi have taken turns at this ministry). A small sample of using hydraulic power is being used to suck money out of the beleagured public pocket. At the end of the day, we end up having to buy favors from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan for power that we could produce ourselves by investing in clean energy. Only we are too busy being power hungry.