BEIRUT: The Finance Ministry finally released Monday the funds needed to lease two electricity generating barges as the Energy Ministry prepared to receive the boats in less than two months.
A source at the Finance Ministry said Minister Mohammad Safadi had signed a memo for the release of the funds and sent it to the prime minister’s office.
The source added that the release of the funds would speed up the leasing of barges from the Turkish company Karkey Karadeniz Elektrik Uretim.
The Energy Ministry told The Daily Star that it has taken all technical and logistical steps necessary to receive the barges at electricity plants in Lebanon.
It added that once the barges dock near the electricity stations off the coast, the technical teams will immediately connect the cables of the ships to the power plants.
Officials at the ministry say the barges can start generating electricity in two to three weeks at the most once they arrive to Lebanon.
Lebanon was supposed to receive the barges this summer, but a lack of funds and continued bickering in the Cabinet delayed the operation.
Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil accused some members of the Cabinet of deliberately delaying the barges’ leasing.
Bassil threatened to name all the parties who had delayed the arrival of the Turkish barges if the Finance Ministry continues to come up with pretexts not to release the funds.
In July 2011, Bassil signed an agreement with Turkish firm Karkey Karadeniz Elektrik Uretim to lease two electricity generating barges for $360 million and for a three year period.
The two ships are expected to generate 270 megawatts of electricity.
Bassil said the state-run Electricite du Liban would be able to save between $30 to $130 million a year on fuel by leasing the barges, which consume less fuel than the regular power plants in Lebanon.
Lebanon’s current electricity production stands at around 1,500 MW, while demand soars above 2,400 MW.
The huge deficit renders the country vulnerable to severe power rationing that often exceeds 12 hours a day outside of Beirut.
According to Bassil, the power barges would produce energy at rates of almost $0.06 per kilowatt hour, significantly less than in Lebanon’s outmoded plants.
Energy Ministry estimates put Lebanon’s current energy costs at no less than $0.17 per kilowatt hour.
EDL officials said the technical teams at the company will shut down two aging power plants when the barges arrive to Lebanon to carry out maintenance work on these stations.
They added that some of the power plants may stop operating if the necessary repairs are not carried out.
Experts say the barges will partially resolve Lebanon’s electricity crisis but warned that more investment was needed to build two or three power plants that run on natural gas.