April 27, 2012 01:38 AM
By Rakan al-Fakih
HERMEL, Lebanon: The road home for residents of the Bekaa town of Hermel is lit up for the first time, with the Transport Ministry now putting the final touches on new solar powered street lights in the area.

Seven hundred sixty-six light posts were erected along the 10 kilometer road from the old train station on the Baalbek-Homs highway to Hermel, and on the 5 kilometer stretch connecting the town to Al-Qaa.

Turned on earlier this month, the lights serve a dual purpose: They are meant both to increase road safety and are part of an effort to preserve the environment in a place which is still relatively unpolluted.

Topping the light posts are mirrors which store solar energy during the day. Beneath them are bulbs that switch on at night or in foggy weather using the stored power. They are lit between nine and 12 hours out of every 24 period.

According to Ahmad Shahin, an engineer who is tasked by the Union of Hermel District Municipalities to supervise work, the project cost $1,072,000, paid by the Transport Ministry, which also supervised construction. The lights’ operation will be guaranteed for one year by the company which installed them.

The project is the country’s largest initiative using solar power as the only means to produce electricity. As such, it will be able to illuminate the highway without fail despite Lebanon’s ongoing power rationing woes.

It is also a result of efforts by the Hermel municipalities to preserve the town’s diverse ecosystem.

One factor contributing to its success is that Hermel enjoys between 310 and 320 sunny days a year on average.

Abdel-Monhem Abdeen, who owns a restaurant on the bank of the Al-Assi river at the entrance to Hermel, said both residents and visitors have expressed satisfaction with the new lights, which facilitate nighttime driving and will presumably make driving easier on foggy winter days.

But many Hermel residents are skeptical about the quality of the equipment used, and whether the municipalities union will have sufficient funds to maintain the lights after the year’s guarantee is up.

Nizar Dandash, the head of the League of University Professors for the Protection of Environment, believes the project “is a step in the right direction since the Bekaa enjoys plenty of sunny days and because the initiative reduces pollution.”

However, Dandash fears the equipment used in the project might be substandard, a problem that could lead to high maintenance costs. Backing up such fears is the fact that many previous infrastructure projects in the Bekaa have not met industry standards.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Mustafa Taha, the union’s head, said they had asked Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi for street lights several times. Eventually, the minister proposed the solar power as an energy and cost-saving move. Taha said the union accepted because of its interest in protecting Hermel’s environment, which he said has been spared the gas emissions and chemical wastes of other areas that host factories.

“The union has promised to handle maintenance for the project,” said Taha, adding that the Transport Ministry was responsible for equipment quality, having acquired the panels, batteries, bulbs and posts for the lights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 27, 2012, on page 4.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2012/Apr-27/171566-solar-power-lights-illuminate-highway-to-hermel.ashx#ixzz1tGvEndpd
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)