Generator mafias profit from Lebanese power supply gap

Stuck between the threats of Lebanese generator mafias and the government’s new regulations, the power supply gap continues to prolong.

It is estimated that the illegal generators industry’s net worth would be over “$1 billion”. © Barthelemy Leyconie

In an attempt to bridge the power supply gap in Lebanon, people who owned private generators in Lebanon have been collecting “extortionate prices” from their customers for decades altogether, while using the “crumbling” country infrastructure to their advantage. It is estimated that this illegal industry’s net worth would be over “$1 billion”, whereby “giving those involved enormous influence that some say has been used to stymie reform”.

However, after years of unhindered operation, these generator owners referred to as “generator mafia” are facing the government which has woken up to take action against them. As a result, new rules have been introduced for installation of meters which records the power usage. The “caretaker economy minister” of Lebanon, Raed Khoury, said that new regulations have been put in place for “preventing fraud” besides ensuring that the consumers pay only for “what they use”. In his words: “We are not running in a confrontation with anyone, our main goal is to implement the law”.

Moreover, he also informed that the installation cost of the meters will have to be paid by the owners. Nevertheless, the generator owners threatened to cut off power in case the new regulations are implemented. Furthermore, a “representative of owners” came out with a statement: “Apparently all the problems are solved in the country and they now have time to deal with us. Without the generators, you will see darkness”.

The power supply gap has been an issue in Lebanon from the civil war times; as a result diesel generators have become a familiar practice in the country, while tangled wires that hang haphazardly from one house to the house are constant reminders of the “dysfunction”.

Given the lack of investment in the development of energy infrastructure, Lebanon fails to keep up with its “power demands” thus creating the power supply gap. The current electricity production of Electricity du Liban falls far short to match the “actual consumption”. In an attempt to ration the power supply, Beirut faces “scheduled power cuts” for three hours daily, while outside the city limits the load shedding cycle can continue till twelve hours at length.

With rising consumption of electricity in summer, the power cuts become more frequent. However, the increment in the oil prices could force the EDL to “ration supply even further”, warned the company.

Due to this incapacity of EDL in providing twenty four hours of power, there is a reluctancy on the officials’ part to introduce a price hike, as result even though the electricity generation costs have risen, the household are billed as per their old rates. So far, the government has been covering the EDL’s annual deficits.

Nevertheless, the generator bills of a household can go up to “$150 a month” as an additional cost to the “regular electricity” payments. In this case, the generator owners argue that they are taking care of “an essential function” which the government fails to fulfil. In the words of a generator owner who has nearly seven hundred customers:
“It doesn’t make any sense. In Beirut, it won’t work because there are several generators for each building and each area — they are all mixed up together.
“Going around to take the reading every month is a lot of work. The government should just provide electricity for people”.

However, the residents are in favour for the new regulation if it brings down their costs. Christina Karam, who lives in Beirut, stated: “We can’t live without the generator. But it’s better to have a meter so we pay only what we use.”

In some cases, local authorities despite facing numerous hurdles staring from tyre burning protests to death threats, managed to get “success in outmanoeuvring generator owners”. From the year of 2013, Lebanon depended on “two floating power stations from Turkey” to reduce the power supply gap. Although, this was to be a “temporary measures”, nothing concrete ever materialised. However, a third power barge “arrived last month” which was “supposed to dock off the coast of Jiyyeh in the south, but locals blocked the giant barge from mooring” as their statement released urged the authorities “to distance the death [machine] from our families and children.”