x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Emirates left in the dark

A chronic shortage of electricity in the northern Emirates is a serious economic and environmental threat, a government study finds.

A barber shop powered by a generator stands out in an area of Fujairah where most low-rise business developments remain empty because of the lack of electricity.
A barber shop powered by a generator stands out in an area of Fujairah where most low-rise business developments remain empty because of the lack of electricity.

A chronic shortage of electricity in the northern Emirates is a serious economic and environmental threat, a government study has found. The National was allowed exclusive access to parts of the study, carried out over the past year by a special Federal National Council (FNC) committee. The report paints a picture of poor planning for growth in the northern Emirates by the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), which is responsible for providing the bulk of power there.

Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah and Umm al Qaiwain, known as the northern Emirates, lack their own electricity and water authorities and are essentially dependent on federal supplies. About 1,000 commercial buildings in the region are waiting to be hooked up to the federal power grid, including 500 in Ajman. In many cases, building owners have been waiting months or even years for electricity. Some have resorted to noisy, expensive and environmentally unfriendly petrol-powered generators to make their buildings inhabitable.

The side effects of generator-produced electricity has persuaded local authorities in Fujairah to significantly curtail their use. If solutions are not found there could be serious effects, said Yousef Neaimi, an FNC member from Ras al Khaimah who has a leadership role on the committee producing the study, which will be presented to the FNC this autumn. "When they started building all these buildings, the interest rates on loans were much lower and there was a lot of liquidity in the market," he said. "Now rates have gone up.

"And, of course, all of these buildings are financed by banks, and all of their owners are going to be hit with bad debts." He said FEWA bore much of the responsibility, mainly because developers in the northern Emirates typically had to obtain approval before they built buildings. "For most of these buildings, they couldn't start construction until they received approval from the electricity authority," Mr Neaimi said.

"Sadly, FEWA did not keep their promise, and a lot of building owners are now left with debts in their banks that are going bad." Officials at FEWA could not be reached for comment. It is not only the northern Emirates that are affected, according to Mr Neaimi. Twenty-five buildings were not connected to the grid in the Al Dhaid area, which, although part of Sharjah, was supplied by FEWA. Last week, Sharjah itself was hit by severe power cuts.

Rashed al Shariqi, another FNC member from Ras al Khaimah, said the delay in connecting housing developments in the emirates had caused hardship for low-income Emiratis. There have been several instances in Ras al Khaimah in which villas built by the Sheikh Zayed Housing programme were left empty for several years. Mr Shariqi also warned of environmental problems from widespread use of generators. "If this were a cost effective solution, everyone would buy generators and use them instead," he said. "But it's not. If you walk in the street and see each building with a single generator, how much noise will we get? How much pollution will we get?"

He added: "If we continue to mismanage the resources we have, if we continue to miscalculate the amount of that we currently have, the problems will fester." hnaylor@thenational.ae