By Mohamad El Amin
The Daily Star

BEIRUT: A power conservation draft law, part of a package to bring renewable energy production to 12 percent, is up for discussion by Cabinet, Energy and Water Minister Jibran Bassil announced Thursday. The government is also set to launch a 14-item national energy efficiency plan at the next Cabinet meeting, he added.

Bassil’s remarks came at the 2nd Beirut Energy Forum where he renewed calls for making renewable energy production a key part of the strategy for bolstering Lebanon’s national electricity network.

Bassil urged Parliament to ratify Lebanon’s membership in the International Energy Agency.

Commenting on the recent “clash” over a recently passed $1.2 billion electricity plan, which polarized government, Bassil hinted he would press on with new projects in spite of any opposition he might face.

“The war has started and will not stop until citizens get their rights.”

The bill passed last week after two amendments were made, ending six weeks of political wrangling.

Bassil also called upon participants in the forum to promote his efforts in the energy sector.

Angelina Eichhorst, EU ambassador in Lebanon, who was also present at the conference, urged Lebanon to learn from other countries’ mistakes when implementing the new electricity plan.

She predicted that the region’s energy needs would grow by 65 percent within the coming 25 years.

That statistic has prompted the EU to allocate an additional 350 million euros to regional development projects for the 2011-12 period, she said.

That aid could be expected to grow if positive results were found.

“This money will be distributed according to a ‘the more you do the more you get’ basis. Countries who proceed faster with reforms will be able to count more on the support of the European Union,” she said.

Eichhorst also called for an “energy partnership” between the EU and southern Mediterranean countries focusing mainly on renewable energy projects, especially those related to solar energy.

Robert Watkins, the United Nations Development Program’s resident representative, discussed the role of UNDP in Lebanon’s renewable energy sector, announcing a newly formed partnership with Banque Libano-Francaise involving the fostering of NGOs and municipalities to “have a positive impact on the environment.”

He also reaffirmed UNDP’s commitment to support the Energy and Water Ministry and the renewable energy sector.

Lebanon’s energy sector faces various problems, with electricity shortages ranging from three to 12 hours a day being a widespread phenomenon.

After an extensive debate over how to go ahead with the electricity grid’s revival, Parliament and Cabinet finally approved Bassil’s project to boost power by 700 MW, allocating funding for a first phase of the project.

High gasoline prices caused by extensive taxation and high international oil prices are also a major cause of concern for Lebanese citizens.

Moreover, the country is still behind in renewable energy production despite some progress fueled by partnerships, with the private sector being given low interest loans for solar heater purchases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 30, 2011, on page 4.

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