Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Iraq No Closer To Solving Its Electricity Problems

2013 looks to be another year that the Iraqi government fails to end its energy supply problems. Since the beginning of the year various officials and offices from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to his deputy Hussein Shahristani to the Electricity Ministry have promised that by the end of the year there will be no more blackouts and power outages in the country. In June for example, the Electricity Ministry said that it had achieved its highest production since 2003. This has been met by widespread skepticism by members of parliament and the public as Baghdad has become completely untrustworthy when it comes to announcements about the progress it is making with its national grid.

This mess of power lines in an Iraqi city is symbolic of the government’s attempts to solve its electricity shortages (BBC)

Iraq’s Electricity Ministry recently claimed that it had reached the highest power output since the 2003 invasion. On June 13, the Ministry said that it had reached 10,000 megawatts in capacity. That was close to reaching its goal for the year of 11,000 megawatts. The Ministry went on to claim that it was providing 15-24 hours of power per day to the public. Baghdad was receiving 15 hours per day, Diyala 16 hours, Wasit 20 hours, and Maysan and Tamim 24 hours each according to the Ministry. It went on to promise new power stations at the end of the month and early July. Since January Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani who is in charge of energy policy, and the Electricity Ministry have been promising that this is the year that the country will finally overcome its electricity shortages. In April for example, the Ministry told the press that private generator operators would have to sell their equipment by October when demand was finally met. This is just the latest round of such promises. For years now, Baghdad has been making claim after claim that it is just around the corner from solving this dilemma. That has led to a growing sense of skepticism amongst the public and parliament.

June has witnessed protests in Nasiriyah over constant power shortages (Al-Mada)
There are plenty of reasons to question the government’s recent statements that it will be meeting demand. First, the Electricity Ministry’s own numbers don’t add up. It said its goal for the year was to reach 11,000 megawatts in capacity, but then it said that Iraqis were using around 14,200 megawatts. Second, it has cut back its own target several times. Towards the beginning of the year officials like Deputy Premier Shashristani were saying that Iraq would be producing 12,000 megawatts by the end of 2013. Before that, the Ministry was supposed to reach 13,000 megawatts before the summer. Third, the country has never been able to produce at capacity, because of a number of problems. The Ministry admitted as much when it told the press on June 13 that it was down 690 megawatts due to a lack of fuel and other issues. The next day that number increased to 1,600 megawatts in lost production. Fourth, in May, as a sign that public production was not going to be enough the cabinet agreed to provide private generator operators with free fuel for the summer. That same month, a parliamentarian from the oil and energy committee claimed that three new power stations came on line in Wasit, Karbala, and Babil, but were not operating. Finally, the public is boiling over with anger at the continued blackouts and lack of steady electricity, and calling Baghdad’s bluff that those problems will be solved anytime soon. That has led to protests in Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province since the beginning of June. The Electricity Ministry’s figures and actions prove that it will not be close to meeting demand by the end of the year. Even if it were to produce at capacity it would still be several hundred megawatts short. The country also lacks the infrastructure like power lines to deliver all the electricity it wants to produce or the fuel to run all the new stations it is building. The public and members of parliament know this, which is why no one believes Baghdad when it talks about all the progress it is making.

The lack of electricity is one of the biggest complaints made by average Iraqis. For three years now people have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s failure to address this issue. 2013 is no different with on going demonstrations in Nasiriyah. Every time the Electricity Ministry or an official starts talking about the problem being solved in just a few months, a member of parliament points out that Baghdad has been making those same types of statements for years. That all means that Iraq is heading for another hot summer with plenty of blackouts and angry citizens, because the government’s plans are nowhere near coming to fruition, and the way they’ve been going won’t be ay time soon.


AIN, “3 power station inaugurated, yet without production, says Sa’ad,” 5/12/13
- “MP describes promises to resolve electric power crisis in Iraq as “exaggerated,” 4/11/13
- “MP holds government, MoE responsible for flounder at electric power projects,” 6/12/13

Alsumaria, “Iraqi Cabinet provides private generators with free fuel,” 5/21/13

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraq achieves electricity self-sufficiency end of 2013,” 1/20/13
- “Iraqi electricity production to reach 12,000 megawatts,” 4/18/13

Azzaman, “Iraq to hit “final nail in coffin of darkness” in October,” 4/8/13

Al-Mada, “”Electricity Demonstrations” in Nasiriyah continue for a seventh day,” 6/8/13
- “Electricity Ministry achieves the highest energy production from 15 to 24 hours a day,” 6/13/13
- “Electricity: our output rose (6500) MW for 2003 and we still need (4200) MW extra,” 6/14/13

Saeed, Samer, “Stability in power supplies leads to surge in prices of cooling gadgets,” Azzaman, 4/15/13


The World Around Me said...

Is there a reason why certain areas get more hours of electricity? Is it because of population sizes or anything?

Joel Wing said...

Part of it's policy and part of it's dysfunction. There's no real central control over the national grid. Certain areas get more power due to local officials keeping power for their province without sharing. Some power gets distributed to larger areas like Baghdad, etc. So it's a mix of a number of factors.

The World Around Me said...

Oh ok thank you. So it is sort of similar to pork barrel politics as well.