Jordan to sign electricity deal with Lebanon next week, minister says

Lebanon has frequent fuel shortages and power cuts linked to its economic crisis

Jordan will sign a deal next week to supply Lebanon with 250 megawatts of electricity to help ease dire power shortages, the Jordanian energy minister said on Wednesday.

The deal, to be signed with Lebanon and Syria, will entail supplying Lebanon with 150 megawatts of power between the hours of midnight and 6am, then 250 megawatts for the remaining 18 hours, Saleh Kharabsheh told Jordanian state media.

Engineers have raised questions over the deal, which is supported by the US, because they doubt the power network is up to the job after years of underinvestment and Syria’s decade-long civil war.

Diplomats in Amman do not expect electricity to flow before April and said repairs were needed on the Syrian side.

A top Syrian energy official told Syrian media in December that repairs would be completed by the end of the month but no announcements have been made since.

The transfer is part of a regional deal negotiated with the US which is expected to be financed by a World Bank loan that could reach up to $600 million but has not yet been officially approved. Syria, Lebanon and Jordan agreed on paper to the deal in October in Amman.

Lebanon’s crumbling state-owned energy company produces no more than four hours of electricity per day. The country has suffered hours-long complete power cuts in the past months.

Electricity is expected to be transferred from Jordan towards the Syrian border area of Deraa, then through Damascus. It would arrive in Lebanon at Ksara’s substation, energy analysts previously told The National.

Lebanon also expects to receive gas from Egypt which will transit through Syria. The deal has proved controversial in Lebanon, with recent Israeli media reports that Israel could also be involved in the gas deal. Both US and Lebanese officials have denied the claims.

Egypt has committed to selling a minimum quantity of gas to Lebanon equivalent to 650 million cubic metres per year to provide 450 megawatts of electricity.

But large portions of the pipeline have fallen into disrepair since it was commissioned in 2003.

In early January, the Egyptian-owned Technical Company for Gas Pipeline Operation Services started repairing sections of the pipeline that cross into Lebanese territory.

The company’s work was delayed because of political crises in Lebanon that paralysed the Cabinet, said Marc Ayoub, an energy policy researcher at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.

“It will need at least six weeks to complete repair works, which means the gas cannot start flowing before February,” he said. “We must also wait for the World Bank financing to be approved.”

The Syrian government will keep a small portion of the gas sent by Egypt as in-kind payment for transit services to avoid cash transfers that could breach US sanctions, Lebanon’s Energy Ministry said.

US officials have indicated that none of the countries involved will be exposed to US sanctions against Syria, which restrict companies and people from dealing directly with the Damascus regime.

Jordan started a policy of rebuilding ties with Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad last year and has cited potential economic benefits to the kingdom as the main reason for the normalisation.

Updated: January 19, 2022, 4:39 PM