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

EDL headquarters in Beirut

I am happy to announce the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies has featured my analysis about electricity subsidies in Lebanon on its website.

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.

A French longer version, including the detailed data, is to be read on this blog.