Iraq’s defective power grid leaves Baghdad residents sweltering

Scorching summer temperatures in the Iraqi capital have been made worse by daily electricity outages. Despite billions of dollars of investment and government claims the power supply is improving, Baghdad locals are left sweltering.

Summer temperatures in Baghdad and across southern and central Iraq can surpass 50 degrees centigrade (122 Fahrenheit). Although many Iraqi homes and businesses are fitted with private back-up generators, frequent power outages often leave air conditioners and refrigerators redundant.

Lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament want electricity ministers from previous administrations held to account for their failure to fix the country’s ramshackle power infrastructure – despite billions of dollars of investment.

In his small shop in a poor neighborhood of Baghdad, Kadhim Mizaal uses a notebook to fan himself. He does not stock refrigerated goods, as it would be impossible to keep them fresh with the constant blackouts.

“If the weather is cool, the electricity remains on for 3 to 4 hours continuously. If the weather is hot, like now, then the electricity is on for 2 hours, and then it is gone. After 3 to 4 hours, then it comes back on. It should not be like that. Our conditions are difficult,” Mizaal told Rudaw.

Children head out into the streets to escape the stuffiness of indoors.

“The weather is hot. The owner of the generator turns it off, so we go out [of the house] with our friends. National electricity is not available,” said one youngster Mohammed Jasim.

As residents searched in vain for ways to cool off, officials met at the Babil Hotel for a two day forum on the “Future of Energy in Iraq”.

The Ministry of Electricity, which sponsored the July 10-11 forum, said it wants to develop Iraq’s energy sector “through a national effort”. In attendance were officials from foreign tech giants General Electric and Siemens.

Iraqi lawmakers are turned up the heat on the government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to set the network right following mass protests in Basra and several other cities.

MPs from the Sayirun alliance, the biggest bloc in the Iraqi parliament headed by firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, want to question the past six ministers of electricity and the prime minister’s deputies for energy affairs.

They claim billions of dollars have been squandered on the electricity sector with little to show for it.

“The issue of electricity is one of the vital and main issues for which the previous governments from 2003 to this day have not been able to find a drastic solution. The problem in Iraq does not have to do with the availability of funds, but rather in the administering of those funds and correct planning in managing the institutions,” Sayirun MP Sabah Saedi told the parliament.

Iraq imports up to 1,300 megawatts of electricity from Iran, alongside 28 million cubic meters of Iranian gas to power up its southern stations. Despite several waiver extensions, US sanctions on Tehran have called the future of these imports into question.

From 2003 until present day, successive Iraqi governments have spent tens of billions of dollars on the network.

According to the Ministry of Electricity’s latest figures, updated on July 11, current production has peaked at 18,450 megawatts per day.

Of this, Baghdad was provided with 4,399 megawatts, a 24 percent increase on last year’s peak of 3,549.

The Iraqi government says it has doubled down on the electricity issue, signing deals with Siemens and General Electric.

“We are very keen on implementing the project at its agreed times and with no delays,” Abdul-Mahdi said on Thursday in a meeting with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser.

Electricity development should cover “all parts of Iraq, especially the south of the country”, he added.

Despite generating the biggest share of Iraq’s oil revenues, the southern province of Basra has been badly neglected – its electricity and water networks left in disrepair and its youth blighted by unemployment. Last year’s deadly protests have resumed in recent weeks, prompting the government to act.

Now Iraq is looking to link its electricity network to other states in the Middle East, including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Following a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart, Iraq’s electricity minister Luay al-Khatteeb announced on Friday that Iraq and Jordan had forged a deal to connect their power grids by 2021.

The first stage will include establishing two extreme-pressure electricity transmission lines that would connect the eastern areas of Jordan, al-Risha, to Iraq’s Western areas in Anbar, al-Qaim, with a length of 300 km. The two lines will connect Risha Transformational Station with Qaim Transformational Station.

Each side will shoulder the “founding, ownership, and management” costs of the project on their respective sides of the border.

“This line, upon entering into service with the new Qaim Transformatory Station at the end of 2021, will transmit energy between 150 to 200 megawatts,” Khatteeb said.

The second stage will include interconnection and an increase in exchange capacity. This will “contribute to moving to interconnection of grids between the eight states”.

By 2025, Iraq could become a “promising market” for energy exchange between neighboring countries, he added. Source

    |   Category: Rudaw