May 19, 2012

BEIRUT: Iran’s offer to supply Lebanon with electricity through high voltage lines may not materialize in the near future due to numerous technical and logistic problems, a source told The Daily Star Friday.

“We did not sign any agreement with Iran on electricity. The Iranians made a verbal offer to Prime Minister Najib Mikati to supply electricity through the high voltage lines crossing through Iraq and Syria,” a source close to the government said.

An Iranian Energy Ministry official earlier said that the Islamic Republic would begin providing Lebanon with electricity next week.

Abdolhamid Farzam, described as the Energy Ministry’s official in charge of foreign exchanges, was reported as saying that Iran would supply both Lebanon and Syria with 50 megawatts during an initial phase, to be boosted to 200 MW in the second phase.

Iran’s Energy Minister Majid Namjou had said in February that Iran was planning to export electricity to Lebanon and Syria through Iraq’s power grid.

During an official visit to Lebanon earlier this month, Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Iran could supply the country with sufficient electricity through a power grid that crosses through Iraq and Syria.

Iran says that it has a surplus of 6,000 MW that is sufficient to meet the needs of Lebanon and Syria.

“How can the Iranians supply us with electricity through Syria amid the volatile situation in this country? How can we guarantee that the these lines will not be sabotaged by armed groups in Syria?” the source asked.

The source assured that Mikati and the government are not against striking a deal with Iran on electricity provided that these agreements are in line with all U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In principle, Lebanese banks are not authorized to have any direct deal with Iranian banks in line with U.S. and European economic sanctions on Tehran, and this raises the question of how the Lebanese government will pay the Iranians for the electricity.

Last year, Iran offered to build two power plants with 900 MW capacities for only $900 million and Tehran pledged it can deliver the first plant in less than one year.

But the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri declined to make any commitment to Iran, fearing that that such a step would antagonize Western nations.

Lebanon, which is plagued with more than $55 billion in public debt and deep political divisions, has very few options to boost electricity production in a relatively short period of time.

Three months ago, the government agreed in principle to accept an offer from a Turkish company to provide Lebanon with 280 MW of electricity through the deployment of power generating barges.

But even this agreement may not see the light following strong reservations by Mikati and his team, who felt that this deal was too costly and unpractical.

Mikati has instead proposed building a power plant with 450 MW capacity in one year.

However, this proposal was not well received by many ministers, who doubt that any company will be willing to build such a plant in one year at a low cost.

Against this backdrop, experts warn that Lebanese will once again experience acute power rationing this summer if no solution for the power crisis is found soon. However, a swift solution is unlikely.

Electricite du Liban said Thursday that clashes in Tripoli have delayed schedule maintenance works on a vital power plant, risking the loss of around 200 megawatts, or 15 percent of the country’s desperately needed 1,400 MW production.

The news comes ahead of the opening of the tourist season and the sweltering summer months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 19, 2012, on page 5.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::