In May, last year I summarized the good news about Iraqi reconstruction:
Due to lack of maintenance, electricity production fell from 9000 MW in 1991 to 4400 MW before the war. Since then, there have been many announcements of improved generating capacity and production has fallen further to 3560 MW.
Since then, things haven’t improved much, Brookings’ Iraq index says that electricity production in January 2006 was 3600 MW.
What’s gone wrong? Let’s look at an example. Arthur Chrenkoff’s Good news from Iraq, part 32 has this:
The army engineers will soon be adding a lot of electricity to the Iraqi grid: “A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repair project at the Qudas electric power generating station 25 kilometers north of Baghdad is 85 per cent complete. Engineers predict the work will be finished within a month. Once operational, Qudas could increase the nation’s electric production ten per cent. The plant’s output capacity is 492 megawatts.”
Well, it could, but it didn’t. In an eye-opening article in IEEE Spectrum Glenn Zorpette tells us what went wrong.
“The basic problem with Qud[a]s is, we have four LM6000s out there that essentially don’t have a fuel supply,” says a U.S. power-generation engineer who did a yearlong tour in Iraq. “We installed a third of a billion dollars’ worth of combustion turbines that can’t be fueled.”
The LM6000 combustion turbines are a type known as aeroderivative. They are basically Boeing 747 turbines mounted on heavy stands. They work well on natural gas, but to run on diesel, they need high-quality fuel and a fair amount of operational sophistication, two things in short supply today in Iraq. “The first time I went to Quds and saw those LM6000s, the first words out of my mouth were, ‘What the hell are those things doing here?'” says the generation specialist in Iraq.
The LM6000s are supposed to run continuously for months at a time, to avoid the thermal shocks of being cycled on and off. Each of the four units has special tandem high-pressure filters, built by Westfalia Separator Deutschland GmbH, in Oelde, Germany, to remove impurities and debris from the diesel fuel. If one filter clogs, operators are supposed to switch on the fly to the other filter, allowing the turbine to keep running while the clogged filter is cleaned. But the plant’s Iraqi operators have had trouble switching between filters, and at the moment three of the four units are damaged and unusable.
It may be just as well. If the operators could somehow manage to get all four LM6000s running continuously, they would consume a truckload of diesel fuel every 45 minutes, I am told. All of it would have to come down from Turkey. At $85 a barrel.
Why not pay a few technicians from Westfalia to spend a couple of weeks here showing the Iraqis how to properly operate the filters? The American engineer gives me a patient, sad smile. It would cost at least $60 000 a day to do that, he estimates, if you figure in the costs of the security teams and everything else you’d need to provide safe lodging and transportation for the technicians.
Suddenly, that gas I saw being flared across the street at the East Baghdad field seems all the more wasteful. The gas from just that one flare stack could fuel two of the LM6000s, the American engineer tells me. I ask the obvious question: why aren’t they building the pressurization system and short pipeline that could get the gas across the street to the combustion turbines?
It turns out that just before the first Gulf War, in 1991, an Italian company had installed all of the infrastructure needed to capture, dry, pressurize, and clean up the natural gas at East Baghdad. But when the war broke out the Italians fled before they could get the system running. The equipment has lain there ever since, unused and sinking into disrepair.
In 2004, $50 million of Iraqi money was set aside to refurbish the gas equipment at East Baghdad. Another $250 million was earmarked to reconstruct gas pipelines and compressors to move gas from the huge southern oil fields as far north as Quds. But the Ministry of Oil didn’t commit to using the funds during that calendar year, so the money was transferred to the Ministry of Finance, as specified in the legal code then in effect in Iraq.
What happened to the $300 million then? “We have no clue,” says the U.S. power-generation engineer, who was working in Iraq at the time and following the situation.
In the meantime, the insurgency has staged devastating attacks on pipelines, timed perfectly for maximum disruption. The attacks have made it impossible to undertake a large pipeline project today.
At Quds, though, no long pipeline is needed, because the gas comes out of the ground literally across the street from the power plant. So yet another project, called the East Baghdad Oil-Gas project, has been proposed to get the gas to Quds. Because the costs of buying and trucking diesel fuel from Turkey are so high, the projected $33 million cost of the project would be recovered within three months of completion, the generation specialist says. Still, the project was recently shelved as Iraqi and U.S. officials balked at its cost at a time when funds were being shifted to security. “It’s insane,” the PCO generation specialist in Iraq says of the decision.
Update: Jim Henley comments:
That press release about the Quds station was … an authentic “Good News from Iraq” item. The kind of joy the Main Stream Media ™ is keeping from you. And it was just a press release about something that was going to happen eventually but never did. The people who wanted you to feel the joy and share the outrage that this bounty was being covered up are not to be taken seriously on matters of war and peace.