For the past month, Lebanon has been suffering from nation-wide blackouts as electricity rationing has gotten worse. Power outages longer than the scheduled 3-hour cuts since 2006 are becoming more and in the capital Beirut while other areas of the country are much worse off. Some towns and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands. The municipality Barouk in the Chouf Mountains for example has partnered with private entrepreneurs to install 4 power generating stations and a brand new network to provide electricity to the town. The homes in the town now have 2 meters, 1 for the barely functioning government electricity and another for the municipality’s generator.
A small town willing to independently decentralize essential services is a powerful indicator of the level of mistrust and frustration that people have with the government. The government owned company and sole provider of power in Lebanon, Electricity of Lebanon (EDL), is plagued with technical, financial, and human resource problems and mired by political bickering. The only reason EDL is still operational is due to the massive subsidies that have become a major burden on the state. In order to reduce stress on the sector, the Ministry of Water and Energy has been exploring renewable energy sources and has even pledged to raise the share of renewable energy to 12% of the country’s energy mix by 2020. Whether or not they will be able to achieve this modest target is still up for debate.
One of the Ministry’s current ventures is installing solar panels over Beirut River, planned to be completed in early 2015 and to produce 1 MW of power. While such initiatives are needed, this project has raised several concerns. For example, even though the panel location was selected in the middle of a highly condensed area on top of a water body, there has been no public disclosure that an environmental impact assessment has been carried out. Beirut River is mostly dry and polluted, but does building the panels above the river signify that the rehabilitation of the river will never be conducted? Lebanon would benefit greatly from renewable energy projects that are executed in a proper manner that is communicated transparently to the public. It is the best marketing strategy.
On the other hand, maybe central government should take a back seat in implementing high profile projects aimed at servicing the population and empower local government to do so on its behalf. Its role as policy maker and regulator would then come to the forefront.