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Gulf power grid comes live this month

Jul 8, 2009 - Faiz Al-Mazrouei - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

The power grids of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain will be linked later this month, the body overseeing interconnection said Tuesday. Gulf Arab countries hope the $1.4 billion power connection project will help them meet rapidly rising power demand and avoid power outages.

The United Arab Emirates would hook up to the grid in 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Authority (GCCIA) said in a statement. That would be a year later than previously expected. Oman was also expected to join the project.

Representatives of five of the six countries signed a power trading agreement on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia. Oman has yet to sign but would do so later, Yousuf Janahi, chairman of the GCCIA said.

"The agreement is between transmission system operators, power procurement companies and the GCCIA for the sole purpose of exchanging and trading electrical power," Janahi said after the agreement was signed.

The Gulf countries have little excess capacity to sell for now. They all have similar patterns of consumption, which sees demand peak in the summer as air conditioners work on full throttle to counter soaring desert temperatures.

Kuwait has been in talks for months to buy power from Qatar through the grid. But Qatar has told Kuwait that it has no available electricity to sell, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The economies of the world's top oil-producing region have boomed on record oil revenues, leaving them struggling to supply the power needed for expansion.

Subsidized power across the region has encouraged rapid growth in demand. Kuwait has one of the highest per capita power consumption rates in the world.

Ali Al-Barrak, CEO of Saudi Electricity Company (SEC), disclosed Tuesday his company's plan to establish solar and wind energy projects in association with international companies.

"We are now seeking the cooperation of French companies to establish solar energy projects, and of Japanese companies for wind energy projects," he said, adding that some locations, such as Dhuba and Dhalam, had been identified for the wind energy projects.

Al-Barrak spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the power agreement signing ceremony.

Speaking about SEC's Internet service company, he said it had already carried out experimental operations in Jeddah and Dammam. "We are facing some technical glitches that need to be addressed."

He said the Internet company was also awaiting regulations from the Telecommunication and Information Technology Commission (TITC) in order to make investments in the field. Al-Barrak said the year 2008 was the most difficult period for contractors in terms of receiving materials and manpower.