1. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the government to be the only one responsible for the generation of electricity?
EDL losses amount to 2 billion dollars every year therefore, the government electricity sector is responsible for around 50% of the yearly national deficit. They are operating at a loss and it’s piling up our national debt and burdening our economic development.
The government’s duty is not to produce electricity, but to provide a healthy and competitive environment for entrepreneurs and investors to generate electricity at a profit, that way, with the free choices of consumers, the most productive will give citizens the best quality, at a best price. In fact, the majority of developed countries such as the United States and countries in Europe have a system, where there are numerous private companies competing to generate and distribute electricity to consumers. The UK for example has up to 15 companies where consumers have the choice to choose from various companies, such as British Gas and SSE, and that freedom of choice keeps prices down and quality up.
Before the civil war, the private sector was responsible for generating electricity in all of Lebanon specifically “Beirut Electricity Company” and “La Société des Tramways et de l’Éclairage de Beyrouth”. It was not until 1964 that the Lebanese government created Electricite du Liban (EDL), which established a state monopoly over the electricity sector in the country.
2. How can the free markets handle the problem of pollution?
Today, producing and selling greener, cleaner, and more efficient energy is as illegal as the rest of private generators. Allowing people to produce energy will finally create the correct framework for green energy to develop properly. Producers will have the opportunity to make long term, as well as bigger and better investments. Consumers will be free to choose and many will be asking for cleaner energy. By consuming green energy, people will be rewarding their producers, also, by refraining from consuming other sources of energy, consumers will be penalizing polluters. This direct accountability will allow green energy to flourish and will give an incentive for polluters to shift towards a healthier production.
3. How can you insure that privatizing the energy sector won’t end up in a monopoly or a duopoly, like the telecommunication sector?
We are not asking for a privatization of the energy sector, which would mean selling out EDL. We are narrowing our research to find the optimal alternative to our 12-hour blackouts (on average). Article 7 of the Lebanese Law 462 has been amended, to allow private institutions and citizens to provide electricity but they require a license. We are pushing the government to grant licenses to anyone who wishes to provide this vital service and allow consumer choices and the markets to regulate.
We are also admonishing that this market has to become a competitive environment and not a government created duopoly like the telecommunication sector. In the telecommunication sector like the energy sector, the government is not granting licenses to entrepreneurs and investors. If new companies want to enter the market and sell telecom services at a lower price, the government will not allow them. We are arguing for the opposite. We want government to grant licenses to everyone without any restriction.
4. How will you stop the “mafia generator providers” in Lebanon that will use violence and political power to prevent competition?
Zahleh is a counter example. Despite the violent reaction of some private generators owners, citizens were well aware and wanted cheaper prices, so it was a hard fight for the “mafia” and they lost. When people do not have an alternative, some private generators can impose their will; but when they have alternative and bigger companies entering the market, they cannot resist to the popular wills.
The way the mafia becomes powerful is through the state not issuing licenses. This means any competition they have is illegal and can be threatened easily. If there is no licensing discrimination and any institution can start generating electricity, the mafia cannot stop them; especially when it means big capital investments.
In some places, private generators may be powerful enough to block entry to the market, but we believe the markets can find a viable solution to this problem. Areas in Lebanon with free entry to the market will see the public benefit from cheaper, cleaner, and better electricity and hopefully, the news of the better quality of life will disperse to neighboring streets, towns, and cities and will help turn the power balance against the aggressor.