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Power cuts could hit plants

The city's electricity shortage this summer is being exacerbated by start-up problems at the Shuaiba-3 power plant.

Power cuts are crippling industrial plants in Saudi Arabia's second largest city, leaving the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) scrambling for a -solution. "The company will take steps to guarantee uninterrupted power supply to factories that suffer huge losses due to the frequent outages," Ali al Barrak, the company's executive president, told the Saudi English-language newspaper Arab News. But in Jeddah that could be ensured only by linking the Red Sea city to the electricity grid supplying Saudi Arabia's central region, or by building new power plants, he said. Both are medium-term solutions that would not solve the immediate problems of hundreds of plants at the nearby Jeddah Industrial City that have reportedly suffered huge losses because of frequent power cuts, which average 14 a month during summer. "The power cuts are resulting in huge setbacks in the manufacturing industry in Jeddah, and if this situation continues some factories might shut down," said Sameer Murad, the head of the factory committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "You can imagine the total losses suffered by the 460 factories in Jeddah." The Saudi Gazette reported that SEC had opted to cut power to factories in the industrial area south of Jeddah to prevent blackouts in the city's commercial core. Jeddah's electricity shortage this summer is being exacerbated by start-up problems at the Shuaiba-3 power plant, which is supposed to supply 900 megawatts (Mw) of electricity to SEC. But power cuts are an annual occurrence in Saudi Red Sea communities during the summer, when electricity demand peaks for air conditioning. Plans to make Saudi Arabia's power supply more reliable, and to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil as a fuel for elec-tricity generation, include linking the national power grid to the networks of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, and investing more in gas exploration and development projects. The four-way grid hook-up could occur early next month, allowing the interlinked Gulf states to import and export electricity from each other to optimise the combined use of their generating capacity. But Kuwait and Bahrain are also grappling with power shortages. Despite holding the Gulf's biggest gas reserves - the third-largest in the world - Qatar exports most of its considerable gas output as liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asian and European customers. It has so far developed only enough gas-fired power generating capacity to cover its domestic needs. Talks stalled this month regarding a Kuwaiti request for 500Mw of electricity supplies from Qatar during summer. Instead, Kuwait has reached a deal with Royal Dutch Shell for summer LNG supplies from a number of sources, starting in August. The fuel supplies would "contribute to meeting Kuwait's demand for power", Shell said last week. The Bahraini works minister, Fahmi al Jowder, said last week power cuts in the kingdom were "inevitable" this summer, and some had already occurred, affecting homes. Financing problems had delayed a number of power projects in Bahrain, he added. tcarlisle@thenational.ae

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