Qatar's offer to build 3 power plants to ease Lebanon's electricity crisis is blocked

Lebanon's caretaker economy minister says the country's rulers, fuel companies and private electricity providers have blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation’s decades-old electricity crisis
Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Salam said Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Salam said Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's political class, fuel companies and private electricity providers blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis, Lebanese caretaker economy minister said Thursday.

Lebanon's electricity crisis worsened after the country's historic economic meltdown began in October 2019. Power cuts often last for much of the day, leaving many reliant on expensive private generators that work on diesel and raise pollution levels.

Although many people have installed solar power systems in their homes over the past three years, most use it only to fill in when the generator is off. Cost and space issues in urban areas have also limited solar use.

Qatar offered in 2023 to build three power plants with a capacity of 450 megawatts — or about 25% of the small nation’s needs — and since then, Doha didn't receive a response from Lebanon, caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam said.

Lebanon's energy minister, Walid Fayyad, responded in a news conference held shortly afterward that Qatar only offered to build one power plant with a capacity of 100 megawatts that would be a joint venture between the private and public sectors and not a gift as “some claim.”

Salam said that after Qatar got no response from Lebanon regarding their offer, Doha offered to start with a 100-megawatt plant.

Lebanon's political class that has been running the country since the end of 1975-90 civil war is largely blamed for the widespread corruption and mismanagement that led to the country's worst economic crisis in its modern history. Five years after the crisis began, Lebanon's government hasn't implemented a staff-level agreement reached with the International Monetary Fund in 2022 and has resisted any reforms in electricity, among other sectors.

People currently get an average of four hours of electricity a day from the state company, which has cost state coffers more than $40 billion over the past three decades because of its chronic budget shortfalls.

“There is a country in darkness that we want to turn its lights on,” Salam told reporters in Beirut, saying that during his last trip to Qatar in April, officials in the gas-rich nation asked him about the offer they put forward in January 2023.

“The Qatari leadership is offering to help Lebanon, so we have to respond to that offer and give results,” Salam said. Had the political leadership been serious in easing the electricity crisis, he said, they would have called for emergency government and parliamentary sessions to approve it.

He blamed “cartels and Mafia” that include fuel companies and 7,200 private generators that are making huge profits because of the electricity crisis.

“We don’t want to breathe poison anymore. We are inhaling poison every day,” Salam said.

“Political bickering is blocking everything in the country,” Salam said referring to lack of reforms as well as unsuccessful attempts to elect a president since the term of President Michel Aoun’s term ended in October 2022.

Lebanon hasn't built a new power plant in decades. Multiple plans for new ones have run aground on politicians’ factionalism and conflicting patronage interests. The country’s few aging, heavy-fuel oil plants long ago became unable to meet demand.

Cars pass by solar panels installed over the Beirut River, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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People walk in a street below solar panels installed over a building in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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Construction workers work next to solar panels installed on a building in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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A man cleans solar panels installed on the roof of a building in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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FILE - A row of privately-owned diesel generators provide power to homes and businesses in Beirut, Lebanon, March 4, 2022. Lebanese caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said on Thursday, May 30, 2024 Lebanon's political class as well as fuel companies and private electricity providers in Lebanon blocked an offer by gas-rich Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation's decades-old electricity crisis. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

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