Andre Paultre

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Rene Max Auguste says demand for solar panels at his store in the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, has soared over the past two years. The reason? The state power utility’s inability to guarantee electricity, he says.

In a country where most survive on less than $3 per day, customers in Auguste’s shop typically opt for small systems that enable them to charge their phone and perhaps a lamp.

“The situation is a failure of the state: a failure of the elite for the past 30 years,” says Auguste. “The situation is going to stay as it is. Or it’s going to get worse.”

President Jovenel Moise took office three years ago promising to bring around-the-clock power to the poorest nation in the Americas. Instead, amid political turmoil and unrest, he has presided over the worst power outages in more than a decade.

Generation at Haiti’s hydroelectric and diesel and heavy fuel oil-powered thermal plants was down to 94 MW in August, less than half its installed capacity, according to state electricity utility EDH, and less than one-fortieth of the capacity of neighboring Dominican Republic, which has roughly the same population of 11 million.

Only around one-third of Haitian households are connected to the grid, most of them in towns, according to analyst estimates. Those who are suffer frequent blackouts, living with power for just a few hours per day.

Moise blames the blackouts largely on sabotage by unnamed vested interests, whom he accuses of also fomenting anti-government protests last year to prevent reform.

Critics say he is scapegoating others for the government’s mismanagement of the already dysfunctional sector.

The situation was exacerbated in July, after Moise appointed Michel Presume, who is known for his privatization of various Haitian industries, to overhaul EDH. That prompted a damaging strike at the state utility.

Employees besieged its headquarters and refused to maintain or fix broken machinery, leaving areas of Port-au-Prince without lights for weeks on end.

There are some signs of change. Haiti’s National Regulatory Authority for Energy, ANARSE, has issued tenders for private operators to take over regional grids and develop microgrids for rural communities, with a focus on gas-powered and solar projects.

Moise has also negotiated a $150 million deal with Taiwan for an overhaul of the national grid, due to start this week, Minister of Public Works Nader Joiseus told Reuters.Continue reading

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