Amid energy crisis, Egypt to regulate a/c units, raise electricity prices

Despite being short on actual electricity, Egypt is anything but short on news about electricity these days. Amidst a growing energy crisis, the latest statements from officials are not quite comforting, with apparent plans to ban the import of high-powered air conditioners as well as raise electricity prices.

A ban on the production and import of air conditioners that can be set lower than 20C or higher than 28C will be enforced, Minister of Trade and Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said in a statement on Monday, state media outlets reported.

First announced in June 2013, the ban will be implemented in the middle of this coming June as the yearlong grace period comes to an end, and just as energy consumption begins its summertime peak.

The ban on air conditioners outside the government’s specification will contribute to “easing the burden on Egyptian families,” the minister was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The government plans to raise electricity prices for the country’s wealthiest 20 percent before the presidential elections scheduled for late May, the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper quoted Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby as saying. 

“We don’t have time to waste” on some reforms, he said, adding that a decision to raise fuel prices is coming soon, but without giving further details. Electricity price increases will take place in phases and be completed within three to five years, he explained.

Araby was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington. Egypt has been in beleaguered negotiations for an IMF loan since the 2011 uprising, but none of the successive governments have managed to seal the deal. One of the recommendations of the IMF and other experts is for Egypt to haul its subsidy program, namely when it comes to energy.

On Saturday, the minister of electricity had said that power cuts are inevitable this summer, predictably so since frequent power cuts have already become a regular occurrence as of late winter and have increased with the onset of spring.

Amidst a crippling energy shortage, concerns are high that the scorching summer months when consumption peaks will be unbearable. Officials recently approved the use of coal imports to mitigate the effects of power outages on the industry sector, but the move is being vehemently criticized for disregarding red flags raised by the environment minister and activists.

The energy shortage, particularly in natural gas supplies, is a result of a compound set of problems, including lack of new investments in the sector, the government dipping into foreign companies’ share of natural gas exports to their clients, billions of dollars of arrears to international oil companies, and lack of maintenance at power plants.

Accompanied by increasing demand for energy, officials are not making any promises that the crisis will be solved soon and are instead asking citizens to ration their consumption. In the meantime, financial support from friendly Gulf states are propping the state’s ailing finances as well as providing help in the form of petroleum products to Egypt.

On Monday, the electricity ministry also said that power generation at some plants will be affected from April 17-27 due to a temporary 5 percent shortage of natural gas pumped to the national grid, reported state owned news portal EgyNews.

Citizens are being asked to ration their consumption, especially during the peak hours of 6-10 pm.

Mohamed Moussa Omran, deputy electricity minister, said that rationing does not mean not using electricity, but “using it only when necessary.” He told state-owned news agency MENA that this is the cheapest way to combat the energy crisis.

Once again, Abdel Nour reminded ministry affiliated offices, authorities and holding companies to take the necessary measures to decrease consumption by 20 percent. 

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