Good Electricity News from Iraq

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.

Read the whole thing.. Glenn Reynolds’ take? “kind of good news“.

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Roman Werpachowski
    February 6, 2006

    It’s quite a normal situation for a country like Iraq.

  2. #2 David Roberts
    February 6, 2006

    Can’t they just use some of the surplus freedom to fuel the turbines?

  3. #3 Cakesniffer
    February 6, 2006

    Why do the laws of thermodynamics hate freedom?

  4. #4 Phoenix Woman
    February 6, 2006

    So Iraq, even under crippling pre-2003 sanctions, was doing better than it is now. Not surprising, to anyone who’s been reading Riverbend’s “Baghdad Burning” blog.

    When she first started the blog nearly three years ago, Riverbend was able to post every day. Now, months often go by between posts. And it’s not because she’s being kept busy — she lost her job when the religious police controlling her part of town scared her boss into firing her. (Compare this to life under Saddam, when most university grads were women, and all grads were guaranteed good jobs on leaving school.)

  5. #5 teh l4m3
    February 6, 2006

    Yeah, Phoenix, but when we mention anything like that, we’re “defending Saddam,” dontcha know. It never occured to the wingnuts and chickenhawks that one could validly object to ousting Saddam on the grounds that doing so would mean replacing him with something worse — specifically, we seem to have replaced a brutal albeit secular dictator with chaos punctuated by spells of oppressive and violent theocratic rule. Time was, a young woman could walk down the streets of Mosul without covering her head, and not give it a second thought; now if she does so, she risks getting pummeled by rocks.

    It sucks to admit it, but we threw out the baby with the admittedly filthy, toxic, and possibly lead- and mercury-tainted bathwater…

    But what do I know? I’m objectively pro-Saddam; just ask any conservatarian.

  6. #6 Dominion
    February 6, 2006

    But the best part is Reynolds’ update:

    UPDATE: The Iraqis can take comfort in this: “we are in danger of doing a far worse job rebuilding New Orleans than rebuilding Baghdad.

    I am sure the Iraqis are jumping for joy as we speak.

    You simply can’t make up crap like this.

  7. #7 hardindr
    February 6, 2006

    Hey, Dominion! Are you going to start blogging again soon?

  8. #8 Chris Lightfoot
    February 6, 2006

    I am reminded of this: “I heard a man who had been in Abu Ghraib prison say: ‘The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house.’”

  9. #9 Sir Oolius
    February 6, 2006

    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.

    I’ve been thinking for some time now that the microturbine would be an ideal solution for at least some of Iraq’s electricity woes. Granted, they’re not cheap and they’re small, but they can use flare gas directly out of the well (no cleaning) and can be installed in series. At least the towns that are close to individual well-heads could benefit from some of the electrcity they could generate and no one would have to build and defend long nat gas pipelines…could maybe get the ball rolling in a few parts of Iraq. Too bad everyone’s thinking only of large central generating facilities these days. What’s your take on MTs in Iraq?

  10. #10 Walter E. Wallis, P.E.
    February 6, 2006

    How long would it take to re-roof your house if everyting someone got up there someone hot at him?
    We did not anticipate the people would tolerate having their own infrastructure blown up.

  11. #11 Pyrrho
    February 6, 2006

    Careful of who you include in your “we”, Walter.

  12. #12 BadTux
    February 6, 2006

    Indeed, most of us in the reality-based community *did* predict guerilla warfare and internecine strife in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam. And have, alas, been proven right.

    - Badtux the Reality-based Penguin

  13. #13 R.L.
    February 6, 2006

    There is no light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq because they don’t have any electrcity!

  14. #14 Crissa
    February 6, 2006

    I don’t tolerate Domestic Violence, potholes in my street, or people shooting each other on the freeway.

    …But these happen in the US, despite me, Walter.

  15. #15 TelltaleHeart
    February 7, 2006

    “We did not anticipate the people would tolerate having their own infrastructure blown up.

    My eyesight must be failing. Where in that article does it suggest that any part of the electicity station had been “blown up”, let alone that anyone “tolerates” it?

    What is surprising is they they are so “tolerant” of the kinds of endless stuff-ups you great “liberators” keep dumping on their heads. Qudas is yet another example of that. Rather than whining like a baby here, you might want to write to your ‘president’ and ask him nicely to get his shit together before they do lose tolerance with you conservitard imperialist buffoons. Waddayathink?
    .

  16. #16 Barry
    February 7, 2006

    “How long would it take to re-roof your house if everyting someone got up there someone hot at him?
    We did not anticipate the people would tolerate having their own infrastructure blown up.”

    Posted by: Walter E. Wallis, P.E

    Just to pile on the ‘P.E.’ here (can’t be ‘Professional Engineer’, could it?):

    The likelihood of post-blitz violence, and the need and difficulties of securing a country, were foreseen and partially planned for by a group assembled by Powell, in 2002. Rumsfield not only did not use it, but blocked the first CPA guy from using any of the people involved in that planning.

    Now tell me, do you make such BS statements in your allegedly professional engineering work? For example, would you disregard the weather, and prevent people from using weather forecasts?

  17. #17 z
    February 7, 2006

    “Why do the laws of thermodynamics hate freedom?”

    As I plagiarized before, it’s clear that the facts have an anti-Bush agenda to which we must not fall prey.

  18. #18 z
    February 7, 2006

    “I’ve been thinking for some time now that the microturbine would be an ideal solution for at least some of Iraq’s electricity woes. ”

    At risk of being labeled an environut, wouldn’t this special case be a good place for roof-mounted solar cells?

  19. #19 z
    February 7, 2006

    “We did not anticipate the people would tolerate having their own infrastructure blown up.”

    Oddly, the people did not anticipate that we would tolerate having their infrastructure blown up.

  20. #20 Ian Gould
    February 7, 2006

    “At risk of being labeled an environut, wouldn’t this special case be a good place for roof-mounted solar cells?”

    Solar cells are quite popular in rural Africa since for a coupel of hundred dollars you get enough cells to run lights, a radio and a TV.

    In many cases the Iraqis probably have more energy-intensive appliances like washing machines and air-conditioners which are a lot more difficult to run off small-scale solar.

    Given the rampant crime in Iraq you’d have to assuem that solar panels would also be a prime target for theft.

    The neighbourhood-scale private for-profit generators that are being run in Iraq are probably the msot practical short-term solution – but they’re much more expensive than grid-scale plants.

    One of the recurring points in these acocutns is that American engineers are ignoring the realities of Iraq – for example, running generators at full capacity despite beign told by local engineers that the power-lines and capacitors servicing the plant would blow under that load.

    Much of the money spent on the power-grid to date seems to have been wasted.

    The Iraqis are effectively going to hve to start over from scratch – and hopefully this time the repairs will be overseen by people who understand the local circumstances.

  21. #21 Dominion
    February 7, 2006

    Hey, Dominion! Are you going to start blogging again soon?

    Really OT but thanks for asking. Unfortunately I have been busy with real life, trying to start a new business. So soon is a relative term. But I have not given up the hope that I can return to it one day.

    I certainly miss it.

  22. #22 42
    February 7, 2006

    it’s pretty goddam sad that Iraq is sitting on huge crude oil reserves yet nobody in the placecan figure out how to refine the stuff into usable diesel and other fuels much less get a gas pipeline going.

    I thought this cakewalk would pay for itself in oil revenue. huh. another PNAC fantasy shattered.

  23. #23 Barry
    February 10, 2006

    Crissa: “I don’t tolerate Domestic Violence, potholes in my street, or people shooting each other on the freeway.

    …But these happen in the US, despite me, Walter.”

    Gee, I live in the US, and there hasn’t been a single car-bombing in my city for gosh, many years now. Or in my state, for that matter.

    Crissa, which are you trying to make us believe – that you’re that dishonest, or that stupid?

  24. #24 Walter E. Wallis, P.E.
    March 30, 2006

    Anyone who pays attention knows that reconstruction has been impeded by attacks on contractors, so money intended to rebuild had to go for security instead.
    The anticipation was for attacks on soldiers, not on infrastructure. This proves that the bombers are outsiders, not locals. Locals would not blow up their own power lines or water pipes.

  25. #25 Ian Gould
    March 30, 2006

    And anyone who pays attnetion knows that both bodycounts and analysis of insurgents captured supports the official US view that there are probably fewer than a thousand foreign fighters in Iraq out of more than 30,000 insurgents.

    People who may have qualms about blowing up “their” infrastructure nay have no such qualms about blowing up infrastructure in the next suburb or town, especially if it’s occupied by people of a different religious or political faction.

  26. #26 Walter E. Wallis, P.E.
    April 1, 2006

    An interesting theory.