Surge of Investments Restores Electricity to Rural Aleppo
The spring of 2019 arrives at the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo, bringing with it an investment package which Turkish and Syrian companies have begun implementing. Companies are clearly more encouraged to operate in the area than they have been in previous years, as the area has become a safe haven supervised by Turkey, far from any current or future military operations. This area extends from the city of al-Bab, through Azaz to the area of Afrin and its surroundings.
The totality of investments were concerned with the electricity sector, considered one of the most needed services in the area. Contracts were reached for the restoration, where possible, of infrastructure that had deteriorated in earlier battles, and for the extension of access to civilian homes, industrial facilities and official buildings. The service fees are specified in Turkish liras (TRY), and are collected via electronic cards by reference to consumption meters that local councils are working to install with the contractors.
Since 2012, and after the transformation of the peaceful uprising into an armed military conflict, Syrian cities outside regime control have undergone various experiments in electricity generation and access. These have included small generators feeding a limited number of households, as well as large (central) generators. Through the installment of a high capacity generator in nearly every neighborhood, managed by an investor, electricity access can be distributed to those wishing – in exchange for a fee.
However, the current situation marks a deviation from the trend of previous years, especially in the areas run by Turkey. Since their full control by Turkey in 2016, these areas have seen many administrative changes, not limited to one sector but addressing several other military, medical, and civil service sectors as well.
Electricity: A Gateway for Syrian Investors
Over the last two years, investments in the Aleppo countryside have been concentrated in the hands of Turkish private companies, which have signed contracts with many local councils operating in the area. The work of these councils is linked to the Turkish administrative provinces such as of Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay, and it has received “modest” attention by Syrian businessmen and investors.
Investments remained in the hands of Turkish companies until 2019, which marked the entry of Syrian investors into the market. They signed contracts to establish power stations, with some local councils operating in the northern countryside of Aleppo, to connect civilian homes to the electric network.
The Suran Local Council, and its counterpart in Marea, served as a gateway for Syrian investors in the north. In April 2019, they signed two separate contracts with two companies to deliver electricity. The first bears the name Syrian-Turkish Electricity Company (STE), and the other is al-Shamal Company.
The contract between the Local Council of Suran and STE provides for electricity access to the villages and towns of the district, within a time limit not exceeding four months from today, i.e. next August. Its method of operation relies on electronic prepaid consumption meters.
Speaking to Enab Baladi, Mahmoud Kaddour, a co-founder of STE, said that the contract signed with the Council is the company’s first such operation in the northern countryside of Aleppo. Previously, the company focused on selling emergency power by the ampere. Kaddour added that the company is certified and registered in Turkey under the trademark (STE Enerji), and that the contract signed with the Suran Local Council is its first project in Syria.
According to the contract, the price per kilowatt stands at 85 kuruş. The subscriber to the service is set to pay 400 TRY as an initial deposit, and then they choose the method of payment either in full or in installments – a monthly 100 TRY.
The electricity development contract in Suran is not much different from that in Marea. However, the latter was brokered between al-Shamal Company operating in Marea and a Turkish company that procures equipment of the electric station, under the auspices of the Local Council.
The head of the Marea Local Council, Fouad Abbas, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the construction of the power station in the city began on Friday April 12. The location of the establishment was determined, as well as its kilowatt-hour electric capacity.
The value per kilowatt hour was designated at 14.5 cents, which is considered cheaper than other areas in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo. According to Abbas, the power plant will be ready within three months, with subscription fees standing at 200 TRY. The installment of household consumption meters will be at the citizens’ expense, but the choice of meters will be made through the Local Council and al-Shamal Company.
Varying Methods of Operation
Developments in the electricity sector are part of a range of services that local councils are working on providing, under Turkish supervision, to secure full access to services in the area. This is especially pertinent to services that civilians need in their daily lives.
Earlier contracts with private Turkish companies, signed by local councils since early 2018, were the first of their kind in this context, and some have begun their implementation on the ground. The most notable of these contracts was for electric access in the city of Azaz, signed in April 2018 between the Local Council and the Turkish private company AK Energy, which was brokered by the Kilis province.
Under this contract, the company pledged to feed 30 megawatts, in exchange for the Local Council providing land and raw materials necessary to proceed with the project. The company also signed contracts in the city of al-Bab and, and recently in nearby Baza’ah, while the town Kabassin is set to be included in the coming days.
In a previous interview, the head of al-Bab Local Council, Jamal Othman, said that the Turkish company began work immediately after the signing of the contract between the two parties. He noted that it will begin supplying electricity to the city of al-Bab from the station in neighboring Azaz.
The Council will adopt prepaid electronic cards for fee collection, after extending electricity access to the city, similar to the system adopted in the city of Azaz, north of Aleppo. Subscription fees will amount to 600 TRY, equivalent to 85 kuruş per kilowatt
By comparing Syrian and Turkish companies in terms of electricity projects, we find that they differ in their methods of operation. The Turkish company which pledged to deliver electricity to Azaz, al-Bab Baza’ah depends on the thermal power plant whose establishment it began in August 2018, after the groundwork was laid by the Azaz Local Council.
Earlier, the director of services at the Azaz Local Council, Mohammad Haj Omar, said that the cost of the Azaz power plant amounted to nearly seven million dollars. The Council is considered an administrative partner, while the Turkish company assumes all other responsibilities. He noted that the Council provided the land for the thermal power plant, as well as administrative and storage facilities, in addition to materials such as copper and aluminum cables at a cost ranging between 400 and 500 thousand dollars.
Syrian companies adopt a different method of operation in the delivery of electricity, by relying on high capacity generators which would deliver electricity to a large number of households and industrial facilities.
According to Mahmoud Kaddour of STE, the current method of operation depends on large generators. In the coming stages, electricity will be diverted from the Turkish grid through high voltage power lines.
He explained to Enab Baladi that STE will repair the existing electricity networks in Suran and fill existing gaps so that the service can reach all residents in the city. The main challenges facing the work are the amount of lost cables, and the damaged infrastructure. He noted that the Company has “offered the best contract in terms of free service provision to the city.”
Al-Shamal Company, despite the similarity of its method of operation to that of STE, is moving to replace the entire electricity network in the city of Marea, which has been heavily vandalized and much of its materials have been looted.
A shareholder in al-Shamal, and member of the Marea Chamber of Commerce, Maher Hafez, said to Enab Baladi that the company will work to extend new electric networks in the area without relying on the old ones, to avoid wastage and illegal siphoning of electricity by some.
A company official added that the project “will generate profits for the people of the area themselves, due to the fact that a number of locals are shareholders in the company.” He explained that “al-Shamal Company was founded by after an offering by our fellow traders, shareholders and farmers on a number of shares. (…) We initially announced the company’s inauguration, and after the Initial Public Offering, profits will be distributed within the area itself.”
The time limit for any electricity project in the northern countryside of Aleppo is set between five to ten years, according to the official, who expected to a large turnout to participate in the project. This is especially the case after a large number of civilians demanded ,nearly a year ago, the extension of electricity access from Turkey to the area.
Similar to STE, al-Shamal Company will rely on large electric generators capable of supplying electricity to all neighborhoods and residential districts in the area. The source explained that “the parts for the power stations are English-sourced, at a capacity of 1,250 kVA, with four cores.”
The founding member of the company did not conceal the difficulties that hinder their operation, including securing fuel, especially in case of problems in some areas from which fuel is supplied.
Turkish Government Enters Afrin
As for the Afrin area, which is the last to be controlled by Turkey-supported factions, it was not excluded from developments in its neighbors in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo. Afrin is currently undergoing systematic measures to deliver services, most notably the project the Turkish government is developing to connect the area to the electric grid.
What’s noteworthy about the project, which is specific to Afrin, is that the Turkish government is implementing it directly. This is contrary to the rest of the northern Aleppo countryside (Euphrates Shield areas), whose projects are being implemented by private Turkish or Syrian companies.
In mid-December 2018, a delegation from the Turkish Ministry of Electricity visited Afrin, during which it was briefed on realities in the city and its surroundings. A road map was put forward to resolve the electricity issues, after an agreement with civil institutions based in the city.
Mohammad Al-Hassan, a member of the Local Council in Afrin, said that the project extending electricity to the city has already been initiated. The project will follow three stages, and “with its conclusion, the status of electricity access will make a big leap forward.”
Al-Hassan noted an agreement with the Turkish Ministry of Electricity earlier this year, to supply the city with electricity after a seven-year lack of access. He explained that the project will be in three stages, and will have a preliminary timeline of six months. The first stage, which is coming to an end, involves the establishment of a power plant in Reyhanlı, a Turkish city near Jindires and the Hammam border crossing.
With a generation capacity of 25 megawatts, the plant would cover the needs of all areas under Operation Olive Branch.
The second stage will involve the delivery of electricity to major facilities such as pumping stations, public buildings and utilities, sparing these facilities much cost and effort. Workshops have already been established to erect towers and extend high voltage power lines to feed these facilities.
As for the third phase, which al-Hassan considers the most important, it includes repair of the existing network, and laying new lines to connect electricity to every household in the Afrin area. He pointed out that this project is done in cooperation with a Turkish governmental agency. Therefore, electricity fees will be affordable to all, similarly to other projects in the north of Syria which have been carried out by private companies.