SELAATA, Lebanon: Banking on international experience, strong multinational partners and introduction of technologies, BUTEC Utility Services is confident it will find successes in Lebanon’s otherwise ill-fated electricity sector.
The company, which won a tender to operate Electricité du Liban’s electricity distribution, upgrades, repairs and bill collection in north Lebanon, invited media and officials Tuesday to tour a major facility they operate in Salaata.
Originally scheduled to commence work in early 2012, the company started in September, after EDL part-timers, now employed by BUS and two other service providers, ended a monthslong strike designed to compel EDL to offer them full time employment.
Just five months after the launch of the project, developments are easily noticeable, company officials said.
Some 12,000 new subscribers were linked to the electricity grid over the past few months, Fadi Aboujaoude, general manager of BUS, said, adding that over $50 million worth of electricity bills have been collected on behalf of EDL.
He added that the numbers are showing significant improvement.
Around 100,000 “suspicious” clients have been identified in north Lebanon after an extensive study of consumption levels, Aboujaoude said.
“Now we have started to do on-ground inspections and the next step would be to issue fines and cut violators off the grid with the help of EDL and security forces,” he added.
The task is challenging, Aboujaoude agrees, but there is a consensus at BUS that Lebanese are law-abiding citizens, when treated fairly and offered a reliable service.
Non-technical electricity losses, or more accurately theft, are estimated to sap a massive 25 percent of Lebanon’s power production.
Lebanon’s demand for electricity exceeds 2,800 megawatts, but the country is only producing around 1,500 MW. Relieving even a part of the 25 percent, in addition to 15 percent of technical losses, has the potential to make a huge difference.
While the company agrees that overhauling distribution would not be sufficient to eliminate power cuts, reliable networks, rapid repairs and higher-capacity electrical substations will mean a noticeable improvement.
Adding production capacity without fixing distribution infrastructure is like “pouring water to a leaking container,” Aboujaoude said. “They have to go hand in hand.”
Workers now stroll around the complex wearing safety helmets and anti-electric shock outfits – a significant improvement from the past, when ill-equipped EDL staff clinched rusty electricity poles, said Kamal Hayek, the chairman of EDL.
A stone’s throw away, operators at a computerized call center tirelessly answer calls from citizens reporting failures, inquiring about power cut hours or filing complaints.
“We are dispatching repair teams on the same day in over 90 percent of cases and in most we finalize repairs in the same day,” Aboujaoude added.
Ziad Younes, the chairman of BUS, boasted about a school the company started to train workers on safety and new technologies. Over 300 workers have been trained so far, in a partnership with Electricité du France.
A lab for testing and fine tuning electrometers was also displayed to visitors, as a BUS engineer explained plans to gradually exchange EDL’s outdated meters for smart meters.
The new meters will not only give the company the power to cut electricity from those who fail to pay bills, but it will allow EDL to do it remotely.
The smart meters can be also adjusted to set a maximum consumption at peak times allowing EDL to distribute electricity more fairly.
“But reforming the electricity sector cannot happen without full political coverage. Our political reality has the potential to paralyze any initiative,” Younes said.”But we are confident that we will succeed.”