Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

JDECO Struggles to Provide (Electric) Power to the (Palestinian) People

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

JDECO Struggles to Provide (Electric) Power to the (Palestinian) People

Article excerpt

WHILE IT IS well known that Israel controls occupied Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank through its military power, it is less well known that in these areas it also actually controls the "power"-as in electricity.

The story of the Jerusalem District Electrical Company (JDECO) is one rarely reported by the mainstream media. Founded in 1927 as the sole provider for generating and distributing electrical power to Jerusalem and the West Bank, the utility recently embarked on a modernization program to overhaul its system. JDECO currently serves 200,000 customers and affects the lives of 800,000 residents in Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and outlying villages and areas.

In early June, JDECO Board of Directors member Abed Barakat sat down with the Washington Report in his antiquities shop in the Muristan area of Jerusalem's Old City to discuss JDECO's history and present situation.

Currently, JDECO only distributes power and has no generating facilities. Instead, Barakat said, the utility purchases power generated and distributed by the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC). In 1990 JDECO purchased new state-of-the-art electrical generating equipment through then Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, but was not allowed to install it because of Israeli concerns about its "effect on the environment," Barakat explained.

Another significant obstacle facing JDECO concerns licensing agreements to operate an electrical facility. These formerly were awarded for 60-year terms, but now are granted annually and subject to revocation. Israel has annexed the service in many of the areas formerly serviced by JDECO-including its namesake, Jerusalem-resulting in a shrinking customer base as well as profits, and, hence, less new investment in infrastructure.

JDECO is attempting to upgrade its transmission and service capabilities by installing new underground lines, as well as new electric meters capable of sending readings directly to company headquarters for billing. The utility also hopes to install meters in new buildings that require the insertion of a prepaid card to initiate service. The new meters will be GIS (Geographic Information System) capable, allowing JDECO to pinpoint breakdowns in the system and precise locations of needed repairs, as well as points where power may be being illegally stolen from the system. …

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