‘Damascus Electricity’ unable to meet total power needs amid frequent outages

Traffic jam on al-Ma’rad Street in Damascus on 28 January 2022 (Hassan Hassan / Enab Baladi)

Traffic jam on al-Ma’rad Street in Damascus on 28 January 2022 (Hassan Hassan / Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Damascus countryside

Residents of the Syrian capital joke that electricity was more plentiful when battles were at the verge of Damascus as the outages exceed 20 hours, which makes most of the Damascene nights dark. The regime’s government alleges that the limited capacities of power plants cannot meet the total needs of the capital and surrounding suburbs.

The electricity dilemma in Damascus and its countryside is not a recent one. The city has been suffering severe energy shortages for years due to the deterioration of power plants, which was aggravated by the destruction of gas pipelines during military operations. As a consequence, the hours of power outages increased, and the problem is exacerbated when irregular power cuts occur.

Three days to wash clothes!

The quality of electricity in the capital is described as “beyond terrible” in a poll conducted by Enab Baladi in Qudssaya suburb in the western countryside of Damascus. Usually, electricity is available for one hour, and then it is cut for six hours.

However, the recurrent irregular power outages in the city became as usual as about five or seven outages during that one hour, during which electricity is supposed to be available.

In light of these deteriorating conditions of electricity supply, families are utterly unable to perform the type of daily activities that necessitate the use of electric energy—the frequent and irregular cuts during that one hour of available electricity exhaust the electrical appliances at homes.

When doing laundry, an electric washing machine needs an hour to complete “one load of laundry” (one wash cycle). But with random power cuts, it actually takes certain ladies two or three days to complete one wash cycle.

The last ten years have greatly taken their toll on the service conditions associated with electricity in Damascus; according to a research study prepared by researchers Sinan Hatahet and Karam Shaar, the per capita consumption of state electricity is now 15 percent less of what it was in 2010.

During the first half of 2021, electric energy rationing in Damascus meant five hours of outage for every hour of electricity, according to the study issued in September 2021.

Although it is achievable to repair the damages that hit the network and substations at reasonable prices and by means of local expertise, the study indicates that that would not be the case when it comes to power plants.

The armed conflict resulted in severe damage to four of the 14 power plants, about 18 percent of the electrical capacity of all parts of Syria prior to 2011.

No gas notification messages

The long time it takes for the gas messages to be received is causing a great crisis in the homes of Damascus and its countryside, as the Public Establishment for Refining and Distribution (PERD) set fuel allocations per household at 200 liters on the Smart Card, to be distributed into four batches of 50 liters each.

PERD adopts a text message approach for the activation of the Syrian government’s commodity subsidies’ smart card system.

However, it takes too long for most families to receive their allocation of gas, upon which they rely for heating and cooking instead of electricity.

The Smart Card project is being executed by Takamol Company, a corporation in which Mohannad al-Dabbagh, the cousin of Asma al-Assad, wife of regime head Bashar al-Assad, owns an estimated 30 percent stake. While the largest share of the company is owned by Asma’s brother, Firas al-Akhrass.

In the early 2000s, Syria’s reliance on gas for electricity generation increased significantly. According to the research study, this is due to many reasons, most notably of which is the improved access to natural gas locally. In addition, oil transport via tankers is rather easy; in fact, it is easier than transporting gas, which requires the construction of pipelines or liquefaction plants before moving it. Therefore, Syria used to export its surplus oil reserves and consume all of its domestic gas production.

During the armed conflict, however, the infrastructure for electric power generation and transmission suffered disservice as the conflicting parties deliberately bombarded electric power plants, destroyed parts of the transmission network, and targeted gas pipelines.

The bombing targeted the Tishreen Power Plant near Damascus. These attacks, plus disorganized maintenance and negligence, caused the gas pipelines to lose connection to power plants.

As stated in the research study, the peak of the attacks launched by armed opposition forces on gas pipelines was in 2014, when many power plants’ gas supplies were cut off in the country.

With all the crises that the regime-controlled areas are witnessing, especially the worsening energy crisis, contradictory statements are issued. On 5 December 2021, Syrian Oil Minister’s assistant, Abdullah Khattab, said that “the situation of oil derivatives in Syria is fine” in light of the availability of more than 80 percent of Syria’s needs of these materials while pointing out that that was possible thanks to the stability that oil derivatives import channels had witnessed during the past two months.

Khattab said that the distribution of oil derivatives is linked to the sufficiency and availability of the material, noting that the ministry’s priorities are distributing oil derivatives to bakeries, hospitals, and the public sector, which is entirely accomplished.

The Director of Planning in the Ministry of Electricity in the Syrian regime’s government, Adham Ballan, said that last December and January were the most difficult in terms of access to electricity during the winter season. However, he stressed that the subsequent period, i.e., at the start of this February, reveals that things are getting worse.

The Public Establishment for Electricity Generation and Transmission Company needs 18 million cubic meters of gas per day to operate the gas turbines responsible for 70 percent of the electric power supply, according to the research study. The company, however, only obtained 8.2 million cubic meters of gas.

The research study had summarized the reasons behind the problem of electricity shortage in Syria due to the inadequate recovery of the transmission network in the destroyed areas and the lack of fuel needed to operate the power plants.

The study indicated that the main supporters of the regime’s government, Russia and Iran, showed little desire to follow up on the signed agreements related to electric energy and gas, which is “due to the regime’s inability to secure the necessary funding.”

 

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