[New publication] Securitisation of urban electricity supply. A political ecology perspective on the cases of Jordan and Lebanon, by Eric Verdeil

Generator owned by the private company Electricity of Jbeil

Éric Verdeil. Securitisation of urban electricity supply A political ecology perspective on the cases of Jordan and Lebanon Eric Verdeil. Haim Yacobi; Mansour Nasasra. Routledge Handbook on Middle Eastern Cities, Routledge, pp.246-264, 2019. Online : halshs-02176158

Abstract: Questions about urban infrastructure, resilience, and violence are central to current urban general literature since infrastructures function as locations of conflict and negotiation over the public good, inclusion and exclusion, and mobility in the city. This chapter develops a theoretical framework to analyse the emergence of new concerns for urban energy security in the cities of Amman (Jordan) and Jbeil and Zahleh (Lebanon). Supplying these cities with electricity requires creating new circuits that are both material and sociopolitical. In Amman, one of the projects proposed for coping with the projected growth of energy demand was to build a nuclear plant in the “desert” close to Amman. This project, allegedly in the final studies stage at the time of completing the chapter, has experienced many episodes and delays. Analysis shows the pressure of urban energy demand and the resizing of metabolic circuits at the level of the metropolis of Amman, while the governance of these circuits remains state-driven despite popular protests. In Jbeil and Zahleh, in the face of regular and long-lasting power cuts, local capitalist actors have taken the lead to provide an alternative electricity supply that replaces both the national grid and informal generators that are in use elsewhere in the country. At first glance, both situations seem very different in scale and in the type of actors involved. But in both cases, these new circuits are heavily contested and redistribute agencies of power in ways that empower some actors but that, at the same time, erode solidarity at the city and the national levels.

Electricity Subsidies in Lebanon: Benefiting some Regions More than Others – analysis featured on the LCPS website

Eric Verdeil’s analysis of electricity subsidies in Lebanon is featured on the website of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

While the recent political showdown over where to connect the Esra Gul barge to Lebanon’s power grid is indicative of the country’s unequal electricity supply, it also unearthed something more fundamental, namely, how electricity subsidies exacerbate geographical and social inequalities. Indeed, one major problem facing Electricité Du Liban (EDL) concerns the fact that production costs exceed revenues from consumers. For many years, the difference has been covered/subsidized by the state but these subsidies impact citizens differently depending on where they reside.

More precisely, because the periphery have access to a smaller supply of electricity per day, they incur greater generator use costs than those living in the central agglomeration, particularly   municipal Beirut. Consequently, my recent study demonstrates that effective subsidies disproportionately benefit wealthier households and in particular those who live in Beirut, as the latter are supplied with more power on a daily basis compared to other regions.[1] Therefore, electricity subsidies exacerbate both geographical and social inequalities.

While the production cost of electricity—indexed to the international hydrocarbon market—has significantly increased since 1994, prices have not been reevaluated in that period. According to the National Electricity Strategy Plan of 2010, the price represented on average only 55% of the production cost per kilowatt hour. While the price structure should reflect a principle of fairness and employ progressive rates designed to ease the burden for small consumers—among whom are the country’s poorest people—a 2009 World Bank study reported the opposite. In fact, fixed costs added onto an EDL bill resulted in small consumers (who use up to 300 kilowatt hours) paying disproportionately more of their income toward energy bills than larger users. Practically, the more they consume, the more users are subsidized by the state. This is not an open and deliberate subsidy, but rather a largely unseen mechanism at work.

In fact, the study highlights geographic variances that result from the length of time that power is supplied. This adds an essential component to the distortion caused by this effective subsidy. Since 2006­-2007, Beirut has received on average nineteen to twenty-one hours of electricity per day, while other regions have received only twelve to fifteen hours if not less (depending on the time of year and in which year data was gathered). The capital’s residents use more public electricity by default and consequently benefit more from subsidies.

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Read the end of the article on the LCPS website. The translation of this article has been made possible thanks to the financial support of AFD.

A French longer version, including the detailed data, is to be read on Rumor, Eric Verdeil’s own blog.