iraq power grid collapsing

Iraq Power Grid Said to Be Near Collapse (excerpt, from AOL)
By STEVEN R. HURST 08.04.07, 5:06 PM ET, AP

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage of infrastructure, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, officials said Saturday.

Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz al-Shimari said power generation nationally is only meeting half the demand, and there had been four nationwide blackouts over the past two days. The shortages across the country are the worst since the summer of 2003, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, he said.

Power supplies in Baghdad have been sporadic all summer and now are down to just a few hours a day, if that. The water supply in the capital has also been severely curtailed by power blackouts and cuts that have affected pumping and filtration stations.

Karbala province south of Baghdad has been without power for three days, causing water mains to go dry in the provincial capital, the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

“We no longer need television documentaries about the Stone Age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having,” said Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a stall in the Karbala market.

Electricity shortages are a perennial problem in Iraq, even though it sits atop one of the world’s largest crude oil reserves. The national power grid became decrepit under Saddam Hussein because his regime was under U.N. sanctions after the Gulf War and had trouble buying spare parts or equipment to upgrade the system.

The power problems are only adding to the misery of Iraqis, already suffering from the effects of more than four years of war and sectarian violence. Outages make life almost unbearable in the summer months, when average daily temperatures reach between 110 and 120 degrees.

One of the biggest problems facing the national grid is the move by provinces to disconnect their power plants from the system, reducing the amount of electricity being generated across the country. Provinces say they have no choice because they are not getting as much electricity in return for what they produce, mainly because the capital requires so much power.

“Many southern provinces such as Basra, Diwaniyah, Nassiriyah, Babil have disconnected their power plants from the national grid. Northern provinces, including Kurdistan, are doing the same,” al-Shimari said. “We have absolutely no control over some areas in the south,” he added.

“The national grid will collapse if the provinces do not abide by rules regarding their share of electricity. Everybody will lose and there will be no electricity winner,” al-Shimari said.

He complained that the central government was unable to do anything about provincial power stations pulling out of the national system, or the fact some provinces were failing to take themselves off the supply grid once they had consumed their daily ration of electricity.

Najaf provincial spokesman Ahmed Deibel confirmed to The Associated Press Sunday that the gas turbine generator there had been removed from the national grid. He said the plant produced 50 megawatts while the province needed at least 200 megawatts.

“What we produce is not enough even for us. We disconnected it from the national grid three days ago because the people in Baghdad were getting too much, leaving little electricity for Najaf,” he said.

Compounding the problem, al-Shimari said there are 17 high-tension lines running into Baghdad but only two were operational. The rest had been sabotaged.

“What makes Baghdad the worst place in the country is that most of the lines leading into the capital have been destroyed. That is compounded by the fact that Baghdad has limited generating capacity,” al-Shimari said.

“When we fix a line, the insurgents attack it the next day,” he added.

Associated Press Writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report. Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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