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Electric Power

At independence, only a small part of the population in the larger urban centers had access to electricity, and per capita consumption ranked among the lowest in the world. Small separate, local companies owned by private domestic or foreign interests supplied electricity. During the 1950s, capacity increased, and production expanded by an average of 12.4 percent a year. Rapid expansion continued, and during the 1960s, the state began a national grid. In 1976 electric power generation amounted to 1,732 million kilowatt hours (KWH), an average annual increase of over 14 percent since 1966.

According to the Ministry of Electricity, electricity production rose from 3,720 million KWH in 1980 to 7,310 million KWH in 1984 and 7,589 million KWH in 1985. Annual production growth, however, fell from an average of 19 percent in 1980 to only 10 percent in 1984 and 1985. By 1986 electricity consumption outstripped production, forcing power cutbacks of four hours a day throughout the country. Industry consumed 52 percent of total electricy in 1984, but some factories reported operational capacity of only 60 percent because of power shortages. In May 1986, the People's Assembly debated the electricity crisis, urging renewed efforts to ration electricity consumption and to devise new projects to increase power generation and distribution. Although the electric-power industry was one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy in the 1960s and 1970s (Syria even exported electricity to Lebanon and Jordan in the late 1970s), the state's success in providing electricity to ever greater numbers of the population in a remarkably short time paradoxically precipitated the crisis.

Although the state nationalized electric power generation in 1951, the industry remained fragmented under local administration until a single national company emerged in 1965. In 1974 when the state created the Ministry of Electricity to supervise the development of the electric-power supply, the national electrical company became an agency of the ministry. By 1976 nearly all of the country's generating units were under the national electrical company and linked in a grid. At the end of 1984, the national system had an installed capacity of 2,834 megawatts compared with 1,779 megawatts in 1976. However, the 1980s witnessed a shocking and somewhat unanticipated decline in hydroelectric power production, the dominant source in the state's plan to increase electricity output. In 1979 hydroelectric power generated 73 percent of the country's electricity, up from 55.6 percent in 1975. Hydroelectric power accounted for 59 percent of installed nominal capacity in 1979. But by 1984 hydroelectric capacity produced only 820 megawatts (29 percent of total megawatts) and 1,928 million KWH of electricity or 26 percent of the total. Thermal capacity generated 2,014 megawatts, 71 percent of the total produced in 1984, and produced 5,382 million KWH of electricity, or 74 percent of the total.

The precipitous decline of hydroelectric-power generation resulted from technical and operational problems inherent in the Euphrates dam. In the mid-1980s, the dam's eight 100-megawatt turbines operated below capacity, often producing only one-third of projected output. The low level of water in Lake Assad, caused by poor rainfall and Turkey's use of the Euphrates waters for its Keban and Attaturk dams, also contributed to the difficulties. Although the Euphrates dam was the most important component in the state's plan to expand the national power system in the late 1960s and 1970s, it failed to produce the expected 80 percent of the country's electric power between 1977 and the early 1980s.

In the early 1980s, Syria implemented few new projects to meet the growing demand for energy, but it planned extensions of existing power stations to expand production and new projects for the end of the decade. The Baniyas station, completed in 1981 for US$140 million, anticipated a 2-turbine, 165-megawatt extension in the late 1980s. The Suwaydiyah power station also expected to benefit from a 150-megawatt extension and 4 new turbines. At the Muhradah power station, located west of Hamah and completed in 1979, a major extension totalling US$195 million and financed largely by Gulf development agencies was planned. The US$97 million Soviet-assisted Tishrin power plant (formerly known as Widan ar Rabih station) and another power station near Homs were under construction in the mid-1980s.

In addition, the government considered constructing a nuclear power plant with Soviet assistance. In mid-1983 Syria signed a protocol with the Soviet Union to conduct feasibility studies and select an appropriate location for the country's first reactor. Although Syrian and Soviet officials had originally intended that a 1,200-megawatt nuclear plant come on line in 1990, the project had advanced little beyond the design stage by the mid-1980s. Although nuclear energy promised a solution to Syria's pressing electricity shortage, the political and military obstacles to Syria's developing nuclear energy were formidable, especially in the wake of Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. As nuclear power became a more costly alternative energy source in the context of volatile Middle East politics, in the late 1980s the government explored the prospects for solar energy.

By 1978 a national grid linked nearly all of the country's generating units and most of the larger towns; distribution extended to rural areas only in the west around such major cities as Damascus and Aleppo. In 1970, based on a housing census, about 85 percent of the urban population had access to electricity but only about 10 percent of the rural population did. According to government statistics, 40 percent of the population remained without electricity in 1980. However, by the middle of the decade, almost all of the urban population had received electricity. Rural electrification projects, a top priority of the Ministry of Electricity in the 1970s, had also achieved widespread success. The government planned extending electricity to all villages with over 100 inhabitants by 1990. The number of villages receiving electricity grew from 424 prior to 1975 to 1,581 in 1979 and had reached 5,894 in 1984. In Ar Raqqah Province alone the number of electrified villages increased from 47 in the period from 1953 to 1979 to 405 in 1984, indicating the dramatic extension of electricity to rural areas. The number of subscribers in rural areas tripled between 1970 and 1984, increasing from 442,307 to 1,564,625.

Expanding electric power distribution and usage in the 1970s, sectoral mismanagement, lack of spare parts for power plants, technical impediments, and declining water levels in Lake Assad produced a mid-1980s electricity crisis. Syrian official statistics and Ministry of Electricity data projected that consumption, growing at an annual rate of 20 to 22 percent in the mid-1980s, would outstrip production until the mid-1990s. Syria could meet the surging demand for electricity in the mid-1980s only by producing 300 to 400 additional megawatts a year. However, with only one 25-megawatt unit at the Baath Dam scheduled to come on line in late 1986, ambiguous plans for 1987, a 320-megawatt increase projected for 1988, and a 400-megawatt increase expected when the Tishrin station began production in 1989, Ministry of Electricity plans fell far short of satisfying demand. The ministry's plans for the 1989-95 period projected a production increase to 2,970 megawatts to meet an anticipated demand ranging from 1,800 to 2,400 megawatts. The theoretical excess production, however, would barely meet the accumulated shortages of the mid-1980s. Electricity shortages, blackouts, power cuts, and rationing remained a prominent feature of Syrian life in the late 1980s, frustrating industrial development and impeding economic growth.

Data as of April 1987

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