Lebanon’s new electricity deal with Syria and Jordan is a long way from being switched on

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Plagued by constant power shortages, Lebanon’s new agreement with Jordan and Syria could be seen as a turning point for the energy-poor nation.

Yet the deal — which will see electricity flow from Syria — will not provide an immediate solution to the country’s energy problems, according to Lebanese oil and gas expert Laury Hatayan.

Speaking to Arab News, Hatayan says there are still plenty of hurdles to jump before the agreement — brokered by the US and expected to be partially financed by the World Bank — begins to help the country with its power outages.

“The deal doesn’t mean Lebanon will be provided with electricity tomorrow, as we are hearing that the World Bank has conditioned finalizing the arrangement on reforms to the electricity sector,” Hatayan said.

The deal would supply Lebanon with 700 Megawatts of electricity in total: 250MW from Jordan and 450MW from Egypt.

With the Iraqi fuel supplies that have already kicked in and future supply by Egypt, Lebanon will be able to get a total of 10 hours of electricity per day.

This much-needed boost does not come without strings attached, according to Marc Ayoub, energy researcher and program coordinator at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute.

“The World Bank is asking for a comprehensive reform plan of the electricity sector including loss reductions, improving bill collection and increasing electricity tariffs,” he said.

The World Bank’s regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, has said that the exact amount of financing has not yet been determined, but the government’s initial request was $250 million, he told L’Orient Today.

Lebanon will also have to conduct repairs to the Lebanese side of a pipeline needed to import gas from Egypt, at a cost of $1million.

Additionally, Jordanian electricity to Lebanon will come at a cost of $200 million a year.

Other hurdles are political in nature, such as US sanctions on Syria. Washington has so far ensured regional players that the deal does not fall under the Caesar Act sanctions or other US sanctions on Syria because the Syrian government will not receive any financial compensation but will be paid in kind.

“The Egyptians are keen on getting guarantees against the Cesar Act. The Jordanians are not as wary given their strategic relations with the US,” adds Hatayan.

The deal and any electricity reforms must be approved by Parliament, which is known for its inefficiency and dissensions.

The announcement by former PM Saad Hariri of his plan to retire from political life has cast doubt as to the fate of his current political bloc. Hariri heads the Future movement, the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament.

“For now, no reforms mean no money and deals can remain just deals (without being implemented),” highlights Hatayan.

If financing is finally secured Ayoub believes that Jordanian electricity is expected to flow to Lebanon by April or May.