By Army Sgt. Paul David Ondik
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 14, 2008 - Soldiers, government officials and journalists descended on Afghanistan's Panjshir province yesterday for the grand opening of several developmental projects, including a "green energy" wind farm. The wind farm may look unimpressive rising against a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains, but it holds a key to the environmentally cutting-edge techniques being used in this most unlikely of places.
"The potential for the wind farm is 100 kilowatts," said Army Maj. Nicholas Dickson, the Panjshir provincial reconstruction team executive officer. That may not seem like a lot of electricity if applied to an American home, but the government center in Panjshir isn't using it for high-definition TV sets and game consoles. The power generation and distribution system provides electricity, hot water and a septic system -- and it's a bargain at nearly a million dollars.
The wind farm, while small and seemingly isolated, contributes to a global energy revolution in wind power, an energy source that grew by 28 percent in 2007, officials said.
And the wind farm is only the beginning. Panjshir is close to being 100 percent powered by renewable energy sources, Dickson said.
Beyond the wind farm, the area relies heavily on micro-hydro electric power plants. The power plants produce energy without the radical changes to the ecosystem that would result from a full-sized dam like the Dahla Dam in Kandahar province.
Dickson and Jeremy Richart, Panjshir field program officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, describe the micro-hydros in terms of a waterslide. The main waterway is branched and the micro-hydro is installed, generating energy from the grade of the slope.
"The steeper the slope, the more power you get," said Dickson, who is part of a coalition of troops working with the Afghan government to improve local lives.
The initial benefit of the increased energy output is only scratching the surface.
"They can use it for irrigation during the day and then get power through the night," Richart said.
Renewable energy sources are produced naturally by the sun, wind and water. They don't contribute greenhouse gasses, don't make people sick and don't run out.
As the nation's electrical infrastructure grows, Panjshir will be in the position to export its power to less-gifted areas over a grid, Richart said.
Ahmad Zia Massoud, first vice president of Afghanistan, spoke at the grand opening of the Panjshir government compound, the wind farm and a bridge. Army Brig. Gen. James McConville, deputy commanding general of support for Combined Joint Task Force 101, also attended the event. The task force works with the government to provide security and development.
The general made it clear that he considers Panjshir to be a special place.
"[Panjshir] has security because the people have decided the enemies of Afghanistan are not allowed here," McConville said. "Now it needs development."
(Army Sgt. Paul David Ondik serves in the Combined Joint Task Force 101 Public Affairs Office.)