Electric wires hang between buildings in an eastern suburb of Beirut. Photo: Patrick Baz / AFP
Electric wires hang between buildings in an eastern suburb of Beirut. Photo: Patrick Baz / AFP

On Thursday, some 4.5 million residents of Lebanon received a surprising message on their mobile phones: “Generator owner refuses to install a meter? Inform the Ministry of Economy on the hotline, 1739.”

It was the latest development in a standoff between the Lebanese government, unable to meet the energy needs of its citizens, and generator owners, who fill in the gap.

A coalition of generator owners has refused to submit to an October 1 decree ordering them to install kilowatt-per-hour consumption meters, arguing that the prices set by authorities did not allow for enough profit.

On Tuesday, residents in multiple regions suffered blackouts after sundown as the owners shut down generators in a statement to the authorities.

The government, incapable of providing electricity 24/7, warned that the generator owners would face consequences.

“Those who had shut down their generators will be summoned and the judiciary will have the final word,” Minister of Economy Raed Khoury said in an interview with the radio station Free Lebanon.

A daily struggle

In Lebanon, power cuts have been a daily reality from the time of the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1975 to the early 1990s.

The state-run Electricite du Liban is capable of providing approximately 3,000 megawatts of power per day as of December 2017. That figure, however, included at least 400  MG from two power ships.

In the absence of enough power-generating capacity, the country currently relies on Turkish barges parked off the coast – essentially floating power stations – to deliver regular electricity to residents. A third barge arrived earlier this year.

But even with the floating stations, meant to fill the gap in the absence of domestic capacity, residents continue to suffer hours-long power cuts every day.

In Beirut, cuts are three to six hours per day, with the exact time blocs alternating on a daily basis between neighborhoods. The cuts are short enough so that some people do not have generators, relying on large batteries to bridge the gap, or are away at work during those hours.

A number of generators power a building in the absence of a regular electricity source outside Beirut. Photo: David Enders

In Beirut, the minimum generator subscription of 5 amps costs around $33, just enough to power lighting, phone lines, and refrigerators.

Outside the capital power cuts last 12 hours per day, making generators more of a necessity, and far pricier. Hair dryers, water heaters, and washing machines all require more power and more money.

In 2016, the World Bank found that Lebanon’s gross income per capita was under $8,000 per year, making annual generator bills a major burden for the average family.

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