x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Drought drives up Iran power prices

Iran may raise electricity prices five-fold to curb domestic consumption as it grapples with a power crisis.

In the dark: Daily power failures lasting several hours are plunging Iranian neighbourhoods into darkness.
In the dark: Daily power failures lasting several hours are plunging Iranian neighbourhoods into darkness.

Iran is considering raising electricity prices five-fold as early as September in order to curb domestic consumption, as it grapples with a power crisis brought on by the worst drought to hit the country in more than a century. The drought has caused hydroelectric output to fall by 75 per cent, Alyssa Rallis, an economist with the consulting firm Global Insight, said in a new report. In partial compensation, Iran's mostly gas-fuelled thermal power plants have increased production by 25 to 27 per cent, she said, citing Fars News. But Iranian gas production is insufficient to make up all the shortfall, leaving the country with 1,000 megawatts less generating capacity than it needs. That and soaring summer temperatures have led to rolling blackouts across major cities. Last month, Parviz Fattah, the energy minister, issued blackout schedules for residents of Tehran and asked consumers in the capital to cut their electricity usage by 10 per cent.

According to Global Insight, Iran plans to raise its heavily subsidised electricity rates to 770 Iranian rials (Dh3.05) from 160 rials per kilowatt hour by the end of September. The drought, which has also cut Iran's agricultural production by 13 million tonnes since the start of its fiscal year in April, pushing up food prices, has highlighted the state's larger energy problem, which is "overconsumption resulting from heavy subsidies", Ms Rallis said. The Islamic Republic also subsidises gas, setting prices at about US$0.02 (Dh7) per cubic metre, compared to $0.30 per cubic metre in neighbouring countries and much higher rates elsewhere. Petrol, subsidised on a two-tier scale, is also priced lower than in most other states in the region. "Heavily subsidised fuel for cars and heating homes has led to massive waste and overconsumption, making government efforts to meet rapidly rising demand a hopeless task," Ms Rallis said. "With no incentive to conserve, consumption has skyrocketed, compounding the impact of a growing population." Mohammed Ahmadian, the Iranian deputy energy minister, recently estimated that wastage accounted for up to 18 per cent of power consumption. The drought in Iran has had other negative effects on the country's economy. Though it has produced enough wheat to be self-sufficient since 2004, this fiscal year Iran became an importer of a projected five million to six million tonnes. Low interest loans to drought-struck farmers and extended loan repayment periods are expected to cost the government $979 million this year. The government has also announced it will invest nearly $1.7 billion over the next three years to establish high-pressure irrigation systems.

The silver lining has been that Iran's electricity woes may oblige the government to turn its attention to underlying capacity deficits. "The ? drought is serving as a reminder of the Iranian economy's severe structural problems," Ms Rallis said. Raising energy prices would boost inflation in the short-term, increasing ordinary citizens' financial burdens in the months leading up to Iran's next presidential election, scheduled for next year. "Despite the government's talk of overhauling subsidies and increasing power and irrigation infrastructure, reduced agricultural output and frequent blackouts are unlikely to go away anytime soon, disrupting economic activity across the country," Global Insight predicted. @Email:tcarlisle@thenational.ae