Nation & World : Thursday,
September 24, 1998
A sharing of power, literally, in
the Middle East
by John Falchetto
The Associated Press
- When someone switches on the television in Jordan
these days, the image on the screen may be powered
by electricity generated in Egypt.
The two countries have linked their power systems
as the first step toward a proposed electricity grid
extending east to the Persian Gulf and west to Morocco
and even to Europe.
The Egypt-Jordan link is being tested now and should
begin commercial operation next month. The power is
carried by cables that are lifted over the Suez Canal
by 740-foot-tall towers, then run along the floor
of the Gulf of Aqaba between the two nations.
A link between Jordan and Syria is expected to be
finished next year, and one between Syria and Turkey
is scheduled for completion in 2000.
As almost always in the Middle East, the beginning
step was a long time coming. The grander plan for
the entire region is still held up by war and politics.
Iraq's system is too damaged to join in; Israel isn't
welcome for now.
Why they are linking
Jordanian and Egyptian officials say their link
alone will mean steadier electricity - and cost savings,
because they will be able to trade power during peak
hours of consumption.
"Down the line, this will make electricity cheaper
for consumers," said Waddah Naboulsi, general director
of the Arab Union of Producers, Transporters and Distributors
of Electricity, a regional group.
The Egypt-Jordan link should save Jordan $7 million
annually in its first year or two and much more in
the future because it will reduce the need for new
power plants, said Waiel Sabri, executive manager
of Jordanian Electrical Power Co.
Maher Abaza, Egyptian minister of electricity, said
more than cost is involved.
"These new connections will reduce the need for
a strategic (generating) surplus and make our system
safer" from blackouts, he said.
If power fails in one country, "it will be very
easy to instantly send power to the state in difficulty,"
Decade in the making
Jordanian and Egyptian officials said an important
aspect of the project is that it should form the base
for the far broader power grid.
The ambitious project started in 1988 with plans
to include five nations - Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey
and Iraq. It was estimated that making the links would
cost $450 million but would lead to savings of $2
billion a year by using excess generating capacity
in each country at nonpeak times.
Since then, Israel has proposed links to the two
countries with which it shares good relations, Egypt
and Jordan. Links to the Arab states of the Persian
Gulf and across North Africa are being discussed.
Further extensions to Sicily from Tunisia and to Spain
from Morocco are envisioned.
In the initial five-state system, each country is
upgrading its own electrical infrastructure through
loans from the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development.
Each must meet a regional standard before connecting
to the network.
Ten years after the idea was conceived, the Jordan-Egypt
link is the first in the originally planned five-nation
grid. Egypt and its North African neighbor, Libya,
opened a line in June.
"Egypt exchanges electricity with Libya almost daily,"
said Mohammed Abdel Latif, chief engineer of the Egyptian
Why it took so long
The delay in creating the larger regional system
stems mostly from politics, including complications
from the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the Arab-Israeli
Iraq is still under U.N. sanctions, imposed after
its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, that prohibit almost
all trade with the country. Its electrical system
also is still too crippled from the Gulf War.
Another potential partner in the system, Lebanon,
is still rebuilding its electrical network from the
devastating 1975-90 civil war.
Another question is linkage with Israel. Egypt and
Jordan are willing to eventually make that link but
say it must wait for peace between the Jewish state
and other Arab neighbors.
"Any link with Israel (now) would lead to Syria
withdrawing from the project," said Abaza, the Egyptian
electricity minister. "Without Syria the grid is incomplete,
and there is no way of connecting to Turkey without
passing through Syria."
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