By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 22, 2007 - Efforts to resuscitate Iraq's electrical power grid are making progress despite challenges posed by insurgent-generated attacks on power lines and fuel pipelines, U.S. and Iraqi officials said at a Baghdad news conference today. As part of its national plan, the Iraqi government has earmarked $40 million in annual spending over the next several years to increase electric power-generation capacity, Karim Wahid al-Hassan, Iraq's minister of electricity, told reporters.
The Iraqi government seeks to add power-generating units in every province, Hassan said. Current estimates say Iraq now requires about 9,500 megawatts of electricity to power its society. The country's electrical power-generation capability is expected to top 4,500 megawatts over the next few months, the minister added.
Hassan predicted it'll require three to four more years to totally rehabilitate and restore Iraqi's electrical power infrastructure. The power grid became severely dilapidated through government neglect and war damage during Saddam Hussein's regime, he said.
Power outages experienced in Iraq's capital city are partly due to the government's decision to distribute electricity equitably throughout the country, rather than directing most of it to Baghdad, as was the custom during Saddam's regime, Hassan said.
Today, "we distribute the (electric) power equally between citizens," he said.
Baghdad's electricity shortages also are due to vandalism of power lines leading to the city and attacks on pipelines that supply fuel used to run power plants and generators, said Hassan, who was joined by Army Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division.
There is a big shortage of diesel fuel to run electric power generators in Baghdad, Hassan acknowledged. In contrast, he said, northern Iraq has hydro-electric power plants, and southern Iraq has plentiful fuel provided by local refineries.
The Iraqi government's electricity ministry has no lack of technical expertise, Hassan said. And additional U.S. and Iraqi security forces provided by surge operations are helping to reduce insurgent attacks on electric power equipment in and around Baghdad, he said.
Despite all the challenges, officials expect to reach 5,000 megawatts in electricity production soon, Hassan reported.
"Iraqi electrical-generation capacity is improving, but lack of fuels and failure to load-share in different areas of Iraq leads to blackouts and reduce the amount of electricity that the Iraqi people can use," Walsh said.
The United States has invested more than $4 billion to rehabilitate Iraq's post-Saddam electrical infrastructure, he said. But satisfying Iraq's electrical needs is proving to be a moving target, the general said, noting that the country's electric power demand has increased by more than 70 percent since 2004.
The people of Iraq "are purchasing more energy-intensive products, like air conditioners, refrigerators, computers and other electronic items," Walsh explained.
Iraq's national power grid is now meeting 30 to 40 percent of Baghdad's total electrical demand, he said. He cited insurgent-caused damage to power lines and pipelines as contributing factors as to why Baghdad doesn't have more electricity at this point.
"Our goal is to have an equitable distribution of power across the country, which means Baghdad now receives less power than before the war, but the rest of the country is receiving more," Walsh explained.