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Lebanese delegation to visit Syria, Jordan and Egypt to discuss electricity and gas supply

BEIRUT: A high level Lebanese government delegation is expected to visit Syria, Jordan and Egypt soon to discuss the possibility of receiving electricity from Jordan and gas from Egypt through Syrian territories, two government sources said Friday.

The delegation will be composed of caretaker Defense Minister and acting Foreign Minister Zeina Akar, Caretaker Energy and Water Minister Raymond Ghajar, Caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni and other top officials from the Energy Ministry.

“The date of the visit has not been set yet but we hope it will be very soon,” one source told The Daily Star, without giving more details.

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy C. Shea called Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun last week to inform him that Lebanon can receive electricity supply from Jordan and gas from Egypt through Syrian territories. She told Aoun that both projects will be financed by the World Bank.

Shea’s offer came just minutes after the Secretary-General of Hezbollah Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah revealed that an Iranian tanker filled with diesel took off to provide Lebanon with this essential commodity.

Lebanon is currently suffering from an acute shortage of fuel and gasoline over the past four months after Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh repeatedly said that BDL can no longer afford to subsidize the purchasing of fuel and medicines.

But many energy experts say that receiving electricity and gas through Syria will raise many political, technical and logistic questions that need to be clarified before renegotiating with the World Bank, Jordan and Egypt.

Among the pressing questions is will the United States relax its severe sanctions against Syria to enable Lebanon to receive electricity and gas through its territories?

Also, do the gas pipelines and high voltage towers need repair and improvement due to the long war in Syria?

Roudy Baroudi, an energy expert in Doha, said that Lebanon’s plans for hydrocarbon sector have been approved by different governments since 2000.

“The two power plants Beddawi and Zahrani have been designed and conceived to use natural gas not gasoil. This is why, the late former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri approved and built the Gasyle project (Syria to Lebanon 1200 km gas pipeline),” he told The Daily Star.

He added that Lebanon has signed over six agreements with Syria and Egypt to supply quantities for Beddawi and more areas, should give an amount of MW at this time (450) and will also keep the prices down.

“The floating FRSU bringing the gas was supposed to be allocated to Qatar Petroleum and their partners who bid lowest offer that would have given another 500 MW”.

Other experts say though it is true that the conditions and relations of the five Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon), in addition to Turkey, have changed a lot from what they were at the end of the millennium, but the infrastructure of the project is still in place.

Shea’s initiative was based on the proposal of the International Monetary Fund 2019.

The proposal works, according to the information, on two parallel lines: The first is to raise Jordan's production capabilities, whether from solar energy or by supplying it with additional quantities of Egyptian gas for thermal plants, and to pass the surplus electricity to Lebanon through Syria.

This is provided that the World Bank finances the rehabilitation of the network and pays the price of the transferred energy in favor of Lebanon in the first period with soft loans and with a grace period of one year.

The second is to import Egyptian gas from Jordan to northern Lebanon via Syria as well, to operate mainly the Deir Ammar plant, with the possibility of developing a new internal line to connect the new Zouk, Jiyyeh and Zahrani plants.

Lebanon had previously imported gas from Egypt to operate the Deir Ammar plant exclusively from October 2009 to November 2011 based on the renewed agreement in 2007 between Egypt and Lebanon.

The operation took place by delivering about 30 million cubic feet of gas through the Homs-Tripoli link (32 km), after the gas reached the Syrian Al-Rayyan station.

As for electricity, Lebanon had a long experience in importing it from Syria, where the amount rented in 2018 reached about 270 megawatts, at a cost ranging between 13 and 17 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Some experts stress that there is nothing to prevent electricity from reaching Lebanon through Syria the same way. Others believe that the option of importing electricity directly from Jordan is the best solution, the easiest to implement, and the least expensive.

On the one hand, it saves Lebanon the cost of building factories, maintenance, thefts, brokerages ... and many other outstanding problems that the sector has historically suffered from. On the other hand, it provides the greater part of Lebanon’s need for energy.

But experts argue that that it will take from six months to almost one year to enable Jordan and Egypt to supply Lebanon with electricity and gas through the Syrian territories.

They added that even if Syria showed willingness to cooperate with the Lebanese side, it will take several months to repair some damages in the gas pipelines and power lines in several Syrian territories.

 

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