Lebanon: What caused the nationwide power blackout?

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Al-Akhbar Management

A young girl does her schoolwork by candlelight during one of the numerous power-cuts plaguing Lebanon. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Firas Abou-Mosleh

Published Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On the morning of September 15, most of Lebanon, including the capital Beirut, experienced a major blackout. The blackout appeared as a “pre-cursor” to what Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian had warned of on September 8 when he said, “the country will plunge into darkness” if former Électricité du Liban (EDL) contract workers continue “to occupy EDL’s main headquarters and many of its departments in other regions.”

EDL’s director general, Kamal Hayek, had also warned that the electricity crisis “would be exacerbated daily, especially in terms of repairs and bills.”

“It has already started in some regions and will increase gradually all over Lebanon,” Hayek said.

EDL attributed Monday’s power cuts to a shock on the Bouchrieh-Jamhour high voltage line, which led to the disconnection of all power plants from the network.

Repair units started working at once to reconnect the Zahrani and the Deir al-Ammar plants, as well as the two Turkish power-generating ships, back to the network, the company added.

However, it indicated that “identifying and analyzing what happened was difficult due to the lack of data and accurate information about the status of the network when the shock happened, because [this information] is not available at the Jamhour station where the network is currently being administered from, but at the national control center located at EDL’s main headquarters [in Beirut] which is blocked by former contract workers.”

The company had earlier attributed the shutdown to “malfunctions in all electricity distribution companies in Lebanon,” due to the same reason.

An EDL engineer explained that these series of malfunctions are technically possible, and even “normal” due to the “imbalance” between power production and the load on the network.

Technical failures may also be caused by a “shock” resulting from an unexpected malfunction that hits a main high voltage line, which disconnects a certain production unit from the network “so that the malfunctions do not continue without limits, causing a huge mechanical failure,” he said.

This will disturb the frequency of the power current on the entire network (which is supposed to be 50 Hertz), hence the rest of the units would disconnect “to protect themselves.”

Meanwhile, EDL reiterated its call for concerned authorities to interfere to put an end to “the occupation” of its central building and a number of its departments more than a month into the crisis. The crisis stems from a memorandum raised by EDL’s management to the Energy Ministry and the Civil Service Council, requesting to grant full-time status to only 879 workers out of 1,600 former contract workers, most of them demanding to become permanent employees.

The company warned that if the situation continues “a gradual blackout will spread to all Lebanese regions, including Beirut, and will amount to a nationwide blackout.”

“Protesting against an administrative measure should take place within legal and administrative frameworks and by resorting to the legal authorities and constitutional institutions, and this has not happened until this moment,” the company said.

EDL insisted that “it abided by the law number 287 which stipulates that the Civil Service Council holds exams restricted to contract workers and hired out bill collectors.” According to the company, the law gives it the authority to “fill administrative and technical vacancies according to its needs.”

Meanwhile, some rumors circulated between contract workers yesterday that the security forces intended to open the main gates of EDL’s main headquarters to let the company’s employees in, based on a promise made by Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk to EDL’s management. Al-Akhbar, however, could not verify the authenticity of this information.

This news caused tensions among contract workers after the positive conditions that prevailed in the past couple of days, Loubnan Makhoul, head of the follow-up committee of EDL’s contract workers, said.

Makhoul accused “known managers” in EDL of causing “an intentional blackout” as an attempt to abort the efforts aiming to resolve the crisis.

According to Makhoul, it is not possible for the electricity to be cut off from the entire network due to “one malfunction,” saying that Lebanon has never witnessed “such a blackout” even during the July 2006 war.

Makhoul also reiterated the position of his committee, stressing that his colleagues are repairing all malfunctions on the low and medium voltage networks and that they cannot be held responsible for power cuts.

He insisted that contract workers will continue their protest as a response to their “methodological targeting by holding them responsible for malfunctions.”

Makhoul refused to consider the statement issued by EDL as official (although EDL affirmed the validity of the statement that said it agrees with the position of the management since the beginning of the crisis).

He added that “it is the contract workers’ legitimate and natural right to enter EDL’s premises after spending their lives working for the company and offering many martyrs, wounded and disabled, and we will not accept that people from outside the company to sit for the Civil Service Council exam while we stand watching!”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Who is to blame first for the Power outages? Those who control the power plants! Not a worker a,b,c....z

Next to all those contract workers who are protesting,please don't do this on the expense of us all. We have a right to basic electricity supplies.

If you have issue with EDL,then solve them the smart way, use the legal means. And not stupid,self absorbed tactics, that hurt the country.

Thanks Allot!!

A Lebanese Citizen

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