Lebanon is booming but no end to power cuts


On a typical night out in Beirut, glitzy nightclubs thrum with revelers, tourists pack breezy seaside restaurants and the lights from brand-new, million-dollar skyscrapers dot the horizon.

But beneath Lebanon’s gleaming exterior lies a creaky, third-world infrastructure that is preventing the country from fully emerging from its war-torn past. With the summer heat bearing down, some areas are facing power cuts of up to 12 hours every day for anyone without access to a generator to pick up the slack.

Strolling down some of Beirut’s most elegant streets, where posh shops sell evening gowns and $500 sunglasses, diesel generators rumble to life every day to keep the lights and air conditioning running.

Lebanon’s electricity problems date back to the 1975-90 civil war, which left the country in ruins and set back infrastructure development. The country has not built a new power station in more than a decade. Poor management and corruption have contributed to the problems since then, as has Mideast conflict. Israel bombed several power stations before its troops withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, ending an 18-year occupation, and in its 2006 war with Hezbollah it bombed fuel tanks at the Jiyyeh power station south of Beirut. The damage was since repaired.

The problem is becoming especially pronounced as some 2 million tourists — a record that exceeds even the glamorous years before the civil war — pour into Lebanon for the summer. Business owners say the extra work is welcome, but their resources are groaning under the weight of so many customers.

“My two generators cost me about $2,000 dollars a month between diesel and maintenance,” said Samir Ballouz, owner of Mina House beach resort south of Beirut. Ballouz added that even if he has few clients, he has to keep the generator on, reducing his profit.

“Electricity is very bad and we are paying money every hour,” said Ballouz, who also pays about $1,000 a month for state electricity. “There is no person in Lebanon who is not suffering because of electricity.”

But while tourists rarely see the country’s rusty underbelly, many Lebanese rely on expensive, privately-owned generators in their neighborhoods. That means they, like Ballouz, pay two electricity bills: one for the generator and another for the state-owned Electricite du Liban, EDL.

EDL is considered to be one of the biggest drains on the state budget, costing between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion a year, or 4 percent of the GDP, depending on international oil prices. EDL tariffs have not gone up since 1996, although many people say they would happily pay more if they could get 24-hour power.

Nabil Barakat, a 60-year-old who runs a photo studio, says he pays about $230 a month for a generator and $300 to EDL.

When asked if he believes the government will soon provide full-time power, he burst into laughter.

“If you come after 50 years from now and ask my grandchildren the question they will tell you there are electricity cuts in Lebanon,” Barakat said.

The government acknowledges the problem. The minister of Power and Hydraulic Resources, Jibran Bassil, says demand at peak time is about 2,500 megawatts, but EDL’s maximum capacity is 1,500 megawatts.

On June 21, the Cabinet unanimously approved a plan to produce 5,000 megawatts a year in 2015 with the aim of providing 24-hour electricity through building new plants and encouraging solar and wind energy. Bassil said the plan would cost about $4.8 billion, including $1.5 billion from the government, $2.3 billion from the private sector and $1 billion from donors over the next four years.

But many say no more money should be spent on EDL, and instead funds should go toward fighting corruption, improving collection of bills and giving the private sector a bigger role.

The frequency of power cuts differ across the country. Beirut has the best deal, getting 21 hours of electricity a day. In the southern port-city of Sidon, there are 12-hour cuts.

“The cost of doing business in Lebanon is enormous from state of electricity sector and the image of the country is negatively affected by this problem,” said Nassib Ghobril, head of economic research and analysis at Byblos Bank Group. “It is unacceptable that an economy that is based on the free market, that is integrated into the region and within the global economy continues to have this kind of poor electricity sector.”

A June 2009 World Bank report said no new power generation capacity has been added since two combined cycle plants were installed in the 1990s. The rest date back to the 1970s and 1980s.

The report adds that one-third of all electricity generated in Lebanon comes from private generators while 58 percent of households use some form of self generation, such as generators and large batteries.




7 responses to “Lebanon is booming but no end to power cuts”

  1. Karim Labban Avatar
    Karim Labban

    We have a solution to the power cut issue, by using ESS technology. Renewable energy, which grants you 24 hours electricity and the only cut you will have is a cut on your EDL bill . For more info please do send me your contact info to karim.labban@energy24.me, and I would gladly send you what you need to understand our vision and how it already has been executed to many people and corporations so far.

  2. 5thDrawer Avatar

    (Repeat this here …. might as well. Pollution of Diesel Generation fits well with burning tyres.)

    “Do we surrender to barbarism? Never. The genocide pushes us to never surrender and our future is bound to be bright and prosperous,” stressed Geagea.
    SO … At 5AM, when they most often put things on TV which are important to ‘social order’ but few are awake to watch IF they even wished to, there is a ‘Discussion’ about the problems of what they used to call ‘Indian’ and then ‘Native’ and now call ‘Indigenous’ peoples, and their problems with being ‘Off The Grid’.
    (some 300 communities in ‘the north’)

    I posit that the problems of the Indigenous People of Lebanon are quite the same. And for that matter, of much of the Middle Eastern communities who are off any modern viable grid. Possibly ‘Religion’ is or has been a barrier. (probably in some cases….)
    But the widening differences of the Societies of ‘small town’ VS ‘big city’ thinking are causes for much of the misunderstanding of ‘Nationality’ – no matter what any bloody religion punts out as ‘theory’.

    The Religion of the ‘Northern’ Indigenous peoples is ‘The Land’. They draw ‘strength’ from the ‘Spirit of the Land’ and ‘The Ancestors’ who walked it before them. This is an engrained Belief. They can move in and out of towns and cities, but always wish to ‘return’ and they feel the need to be ‘On the Land’. This IS what they say.
    BUT to feel ‘a part’ of a ‘National Identity’ while attempting to cope within it as a ‘Tribal Gathering’, the disadvantages of not having the same access to ‘Moderninity’ that the ‘Big City’ tribes do, simply separates them from any mutual understanding of being in or a part of ‘One Nation’.

    ‘Modern Societies’, as the unfortunate growing of humans being stored in vertical bins has evolved, are denoted now (and with doubling rapidity ) SIMPLY by their access to modern uses of, and methods of providing, ‘power’.
    IF the ‘Indigenous’ peoples of the land, who also rise in numbers, do not also rise technologically with ‘clean affordably-produced-efficiently-produced’ ELECTRICITY – which allows production of clean water, sanitation of it after use, heating and cooling of homes, refridgeration/storage of foods, transportation, AND what we love to consider as ‘modern education’ – then they ARE ‘disadvantaged’ within ‘The National Society’ … and will never ‘FEEL’ they are being treated as part of it.
    Of course, this requires much discussion and REAL planning for a future, of any National Society.
    If the money that is pumped into highlighting ‘differences’, rather than commonality of human need, were directed to ‘making all one’ under the infrastructure of a country, people might feel they are part of it.
    If the money pumped into making wars were directed (without accompanying graft and greed) into accomplishing that, then everyone on the planet would be equally ‘advantaged’.
    That they don’t wish to choose that, simply leaves them digging their own graves.

    Geagea attempts experiments with some local sewage treatment. It’s a pittance of what’s needed.
    One town installs modern-less-polluting generators and removes itself from the poor over-priced ‘grid’, and accomplishes what the country cannot … more safe food storage for it’s citizens.
    A ‘Health Minister’ fights a losing battle.
    Overall, the Indigenous Lebanese are far worse off than the Indigenous Canadians.
    Don’t even mention Egypt. Try Ethiopia ….

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar

      Naturally, having removed the whole Syrian infrastructure sort of puts them behind Ethiopia now….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *