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Iraq power generation finally hits pre-invasion levels

(AFP)
Filed on August 25, 2008

BAGHDAD - Iraq is now producing as much power as it did on the eve of the US-led invasion of 2003 but is still meeting barely 50 percent of peak demand, a senior electricity ministry official said.

"2008 is the first year when production has reached the level prior to that of Saddam Hussein's fall," the ministry's operations and control chief Adel Mahdi told AFP in an interview. "But we still need much more."

Current production stands at 5,302 megawatts, virtually the same as the 2002 level of 5,305 MW, Mahdi said.

But demand has risen sharply over the same period, forcing the ministry to continue rationing domestic supply. The average household still receives just six hours of power a day from the national grid.

Whereas peak demand in 2002 stood at 6,049 MW, leaving a shortfall in generation of 12.3 percent, demand this year is averaging 9,708 megawatts, leaving a shortfall of 45.4 percent.

Over the past three months, as the searing summer heat has sent demand for power for refrigeration and air conditioning soaring, the generation shortfall has reached 48 percent, Madhi said.

The increase in supply has been significant. In the months after the invasion, Iraq was producing just 3,452 MW.

"The increase in the generation of electricity has been achieved by repairing some old plants and installing some new ones," Mahdi said.

"Distribution is now much improved as sabotage has been eliminated to a very high extent because the security sitation is much better. This has affected our network. Now most of the network is in operation."

However Mahdi acknowledged: "There are still some lines which were sabotaged two or three years ago and now we are trying to rebuild them.

"The capacity of Iraqi power stations is actually far higher, but plants are so outdated and in bad shape that they frequently shut, slashing generation to less than half of the 13,000 MW of nominal capacity."

The electricity ministry's plan forsees supply finally exceeding demand in early 2012, when it expects to generate 20,320 MW against projected demand of 19,200.

But Mahdi acknowledged that the demand forecast was almost certainly an optimistic underestimate. The ministry worked on the basis of an annual increase of 10 percent but improved security could begin to lure home some of the two million Iraqi refugees, triggering a doubling of demand, he said.

"We may face a very serious problem if we do not put in place new power generation," said the electricity ministry employee of 32 years.

"The need for energy will be much more. We have millions of Iraqis out. If these people return to Iraq, this means that new projects would be needed. This is a pressing need."

Starting this year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has waived the normal tendering process for power generation projects in a bid to bring new plants on line as quickly as possible.

"He has authorised us to negotiate directly with companies of international standing," Mahdi said.

The move has paced the way for a flurry of new deals with firms from China, Germany, Iran and South Korea as well as the United States.

US firm General Electric is to supply three gas-fired 650 MW plants, which should be ready by late 2009 or early 2010.

Germany's Siemen's is to provide 16 gas-fired stations of between 160 and 270 MW with delivery due within two years.

South Korea's Hyundai is building 12 diesel plants of 30 MW each and last week Shanghai Electric of China began construction of a 1,200 MW steam turbine plant.

In addition, two Iranian companies Saniar and Mapna working on other generation projects under agreements with Siemens.

But whereas the Chinese, Iranian and South Korean firms are all sending their own engineers to help with the assembly of their plants, neither GE nor Siemens will send their own staff to Iraq to help install the equipment they are supplying, forcing Iraq to look to other companies as subcontractors.

"Money is not a problem, what we need is that big countries and big companies will consider that we cannot build the network alone, somebody has to help us -- send technicians, especially as security is now much better," Mahdi said.


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