Fuel shortage forces shutdown of Lebanon's main power plants, outages expected for days

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s two main power plants had to be shut down after they ran out of fuel, the state-owned electricity company said on Saturday, leaving the small country with no state-generated electricity.

Lebanon is grappling with a crippling energy crisis made worse by its reliance on imported fuel. Faulty power supplies have put hospitals and critical services into crisis mode. The Lebanese are increasingly dependent on private operators, who are also struggling to secure their supplies in the face of an unprecedented crash in the national currency.

Diesel and fuel shortages as well as an outdated infrastructure have exacerbated the power outages that have persisted for years. Power outages that used to last three to six hours could now leave entire areas with no more than two hours of state power a day.

On Saturday, the state electricity supplier announced that the Zahrani power plant in the south of the country had to be shut down due to a lack of fuel; the main plant in the north was shut down on thursday.

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Electricite De Liban said the shutdown will reduce the total electricity supply to below 270 megawatts, which means a significant drop in grid stability. It said it will contact fuel plants in the north and south of the country to see if they can get enough fuel to reclaim the electricity. It added that a new shipment of fuel is expected from Iraq next week.

But the company, which is responsible for most of the national debt, is dependent on loans from the country’s central bank, which is struggling with dwindling reserves.

The government has gradually increased fuel and diesel prices as the central bank reduced dollar subsidies for imports, exacerbating hardship in Lebanon, where roughly three-quarters of the population fell into poverty last year.

With rising prices and record unemployment, many families have given up private generators and only get a few hours of state power a day.

On Saturday, vendors of gas canisters used for cooking and heating ceased operations as subsidy cuts amid currency fluctuations on the black market meant they were selling at a loss.

The energy sector has been an enormous burden on the state coffers for decades.

The power company has annual losses of up to $ 1.5 billion and has cost the state more than $ 40 billion in the past few decades. Reforms in the energy sector were one of the main demands of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

To alleviate the crisis, Lebanon received fuel shipments from Iran via Syria. Iraq has also signed a barter deal with the government that has helped the Lebanese electricity company stay up and running for days.

The new Lebanese government is also negotiating supplies of electricity from Jordan and natural gas from Egypt, including through Syria. But these deals will likely take months.

Lebanese electricity minister Walid Fayad told The Associated Press that new shutdowns leave his government “in crisis management for a few days.” He said the government will contact the military for emergency fuel supplies from their inventory “while we wait and swap for the fuel from the Iraqi deal”.

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