x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Two-year timetable prepared to control power shortages in Northern Emirates

Energy Minister cites network expansion and Abu Dhabi aid.

ABU DHABI // The chronic power shortages in the Northern Emirates will be brought under control within two years, the Minister of Energy promised yesterday. It was the first time a government official had given a timetable to resolve the problems, which have for years plagued Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah and Umm al Qaiwain.

All the applications for power subscription will be met within two years, said Mohammed al Hamili, who is also the chairman of the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (Fewa). Speaking at the Federal National Council (FNC) yesterday, he said the federal body would be able to meet the deadline because Abu Dhabi would continue feeding electricity into the federal grid and because Fewa was expanding the electricity network.

He did not say whether the planned solutions included new applications. Addressing the electricity issues involves a raft of problems from blackouts and brownouts to developments that have never been connected to the grid. "This authority has offered nothing," said Abdul Raheem Shaheen, an FNC member from RAK. At least 900 houses and commercial buildings in the Northern Emirates have no access to electricity, a report by an ad hoc committee presented yesterday to the FNC chamber said. None of the hundreds of houses and commercial buildings visited by the committee had been supplied with electricity for years despite meeting Fewa's requirements and paying fees, the report said.

The vast majority of businesses opened in the past few years, the report added, have lost huge amounts of money because they could not use their buildings. The report concluded that Fewa was "completely unable to provide power". Ahmed al Awadi, an Emirati property owner from RAK and the manager of Al Awadi Real Estate, was sceptical that the problem could be solved within two years. "Every month they say the same story but we are not seeing anything," he said. "I hope this time it happens."

Mr al Hamili attributed the problems to a lack of urban planning by local authorities, who approved dozens of multibillion-dirham projects before ensuring there would be enough electricity. He said that since 2006 the demand for electricity in the Northern Emirates had been rising as much as 25 per cent a year, an expansion well beyond Fewa's plans to provide for a 7 per cent increase in power demand.

"We were surprised," he told the FNC members. "The local municipalities have no master plans, they carry out projects and ask us for electricity and sometimes we can't connect them to the grid because the area would be already suffering from electricity cuts." Mr al Hamli added that Fewa was asking local authorities for accurate information so that "problems don't continue". Several FNC members suggested to Mr al Hamili that the private sector should be involved in expanding the federal power grid, which primarily feeds the Northern Emirates. The energy minister said it was not a question of carrying electricity, but generating it.

"We don't have enough electricity," he said. At Al Hamra Mall, business owners said they had lost customers because of daily electricity outages. "Every day they cut it for five minutes, but we had to open the shop because we have a contract with the management," said Tamer Gebril, 30, the Al Hamra branch manager of Samir Optical. Hamad al Shamsi, the deputy general director of the RAK Department of Economic Development, said the priority now should be helping industrial businesses.

"The crisis has affected a lot of investment," he said. "The Government has done its best to cover the industrial area, but its needs are a lot more. Hopefully, now things will become better and better." Ali al Matroushi, a FNC member from Ajman, worried that Abu Dhabi, which had been for years supplying the federal grid with its power excess, would not be able to continue doing so after 2015, when an agreement governing that supply expires.

"Abu Dhabi is ahead of giant projects," Mr al Matroushi said. "What if they couldn't provide electricity after 2015?" Mr al Hamili said that was a remote possibility. "Our dependence on Abu Dhabi is a long-term one," he said. He said Fewa had signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company to supply the federal grid with electricity from renewable sources. He added that Fewa would also benefit from the UAE's nuclear energy programme, which will start generating power in 2017. Abu Dhabi hired a consortium of Korean companies last month to build four nuclear reactors.

"We expect the first reactor to generate 3,000 megawatts," Mr al Hamili said. "As a federal authority, we expect to be part of the master plan." The Abu Dhabi Government had supplied the federal grid with electricity and power station fuels worth Dh26 billion (US$7.08bn) between 1990 and 2008, the committee report said. Abdullah al Mansouri, a FNC member from Abu Dhabi, said that Fewa lacked long-term planning.

"I hope that the authority changes its current goals and strategies to ensure that electricity is available in the long run," he said. Mr al Hamili said Fewa had a strategy that had been approved by the Cabinet but offered no details.

mhabboush@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Anna Zacharias