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Staving off a blackout in Gaza

Feb. 12, 2012 4:51 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 14, 2012 10:24 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- While the Gaza Strip faces looming power cuts as fuel reserves for its sole electricity plant run dry, the director of the power station offered suggestions for resolving Gaza's energy crisis.

Walid Saad Sayil manages Gaza's only electricity plant, and said the lack of fuel deliveries leaves three options to stave off blackouts, speaking at the Gaza-based forum PalThink for Strategic Studies on Wednesday.

Sayil says the best and most feasible solution is to bring natural gas from Egypt instead of the current diesel which is purchased from Israeli suppliers. It would take six to eight months to arrange, but would save the Palestinian Authority about 60 percent of its budget on fuel, he told the forum.

Another option is an emergency injection of fuel and electricity, Sayil added, without specifying possible sources.

The Gaza Strip could also connect to a joint electricity grid current shared by eight Arab states. The energy authority recently visited Egypt to discuss this possibility, but he warned that such a connection would take more than a year.

A prerequisite to each option it the upgrading of Gaza's electricity network to handle the new wattage, he said.

Sayil indicated the major cause of the current energy crisis is the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority's delay in payments for fuel.

The PA is currently working to plug a $1.1 billion deficit in the public budget, but has been criticized before by Gaza officials for failing to deliver critical payments to the blockaded coastal strip.

The power plant director said the energy authority and company in Gaza also bear some responsibility for the crisis, and it worsened over the winter as electricity needs shot up.

In 2003, a proposal was developed to build a new power station in Gaza, but supporters have failed to commit to their pledges, he said, adding that neither government in the West Bank or Gaza Strip have implemented the project.

He urged the private sector to get involved in resolving the power crisis, and stressed that his plant was in urgent need of rehabilitation.

The energy sector in Gaza has been beset by a cascade of problems, causing regular power cuts and warnings from energy officials of a total electricity shut down.

On Saturday, a Gaza Energy Authority official said the Gaza Strip would see a wide-scale blackout as fuel supplies were almost spent.

In 2007, the Israeli and Egyptian closure of Gaza severely restricted fuel supply. Fuel was first smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, then used in electricity generation after a local engineer developed a refining process. The engineer was later abducted by Israeli intelligence agents during a trip to the Ukraine.

Gaza's energy sector is crippled by a ban on importing materials for locally implemented construction, leaving power stations unable to function. The plant suffered damage in Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008 and 2006.
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