EDL insists Akkar region not subjected to extra-harsh electricity rationing schedule
By Antoine Amrieh

Friday, February 04, 2011

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Solutions to power crimes slow to arrive

AKKAR: Whenever television weather reports predict storms and a drop in temperatures, people start bracing themselves for the inevitable question: Will we have electricity?

While complaints about “harsh” power rationing in remote rural areas of Akkar are common, recent weeks have seen another disturbing element.

Entire villages or regions might suddenly and unexpectedly lose power because of thieves on the lookout for the fairly lucrative copper used in cables.

When the state power supply is interrupted due to rationing, they climb electricity poles and make off with the cables, leaving subscribers in for a rude surprise when the rationing period ends, but the power remains off.

Meanwhile, random cuts lead the residents of rural Akkar to feel they are being singled out for poor treatment from Electricite du Liban.

But EDL officials insist that the region is not being subjected to a rationing regime that is harsher than the schedule in other areas.

“The rationing schedule in Akkar is part of the general plan for all parts of Lebanon, except for the city of Beirut,” a source from the utility said.

“The long cuts in power in some villages or regions in Akkar are due to things that aren’t related to the rationing schedule.”

The source said the surprise cuts might be due to a number of factors, including transformers in certain neighborhoods of villages that fail due to excessive strain on the network – the transformers are set up to handle the likely demand in a given area, along with a margin for peak time use.

“If someone decides to light his house or factory, or heat water for free, at the expense of the utility, and customers,” the source said, the load on the existing equipment is dramatically increased, and transformers fail.

While politicians have long complained about the illegal connections phenomenon, the public has also shown a desire to “go legitimate.”

Late last year, the Energy Ministry made a tempting offer to encourage people without legal connections to install meters – more than 15,000 applications for meters have been registered in the Akkar region alone, withanother 2,000 cases pending for people who missed the deadline to apply.

“We’re installing meters based on the capacity of the work crews at our office,” the source said. “But we’re surprised when we find that some people who have applied for the meters are illegally connected to the network, on the pretext that they can’t wait for us to install meters.”

“They say this isn’t punished by the law, but this is wrong,” the source continued. “People have a right to complain about tardiness, which results from technical reasons. Sometimes, there aren’t enough electricity poles in a given area, or enough cables, etc.”

The source said electricity company employees write up the violations, which require offenders to pay electricity fees for these illegal connections, dating from the filing of the application for a meter, to when the violation is discovered.

As for the now-notorious cable thefts, the EDL replacements of old cables with a newer, better model is expected to eventually eliminate this problem altogether.

Ibrahim Warwar, a private contractor, explained the benefits of the new cables, which are actually five cables braided into one.

“The fact that they’re braided prevents people from attaching illegal connections to them; meanwhile, they are made of aluminum and other materials, with no copper, so no one should have an interest in stealing them,” Warwar said.

But the replacement process in its initial stages, meaning that the phenomenon of copper-hungry thieves plunging entire areas into darkness is likely to continue for the time being.

Even so, the solution is being touted as a way to cut down on maintenance costs that result from over-worked transformers, and the phenomenon of cable theft.

“We still require awareness on the part of the public that illegal connections are wrong,” said the EDL source. “We have only a handful of inspectors, and they’re subjected to attacks when they carry out their work.

“We need to change the prevailing view held by some people that state money and equipment is there for the taking, even though the majority of people are good citizens and don’t condone breaking the law.”