Cablegate: Electricity Mirage: No Provincial

Published: Sun 19 Aug 2007 09:56 AM
DE RUEHGB #2757/01 2310956
P 190956Z AUG 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Electricity Mirage: No Provincial
Self-Sufficiency in Iraq
1. SUMMARY: Three provincial governors (Najaf, Al Anbar and Basrah)
have said publicly that they intend to disconnect their governates
from the national electricity grid. None has actually done so. They
are exercised over the Iraq Ministry of Electricity's inability to
meet growing provincial electric demand, which they attribute to a
policy of favoritism toward Baghdad in the allocation of electric
power. The statements are intended for local political consumption.
They may also reflect a mistaken belief that the provinces can
capture the electricity generated by power stations located in their
respective provinces for the exclusive use by their constituents,
and achieve some form of self-sufficiency in electricity. End
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The National Allocation System and Its Political Effect
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2. The Ministry of Electricity (ME) does not generate sufficient
electric power to meet Iraq's ever-increasing demand. Therefore, it
assigns a daily power allocation among the provinces on a population
proportional basis.
The allotment is necessary in order to provide every province some
share of the limited national supply and
keep the system in balance as dictated by the laws of physics. This
requires the provinces to ration power consistent with the ME's
daily directive by initiating rolling blackouts within their
3. The ME has no real or self-executing legal authority
to enforce its daily allotments outside of Baghdad and consequently,
some provincial authorities ignore them. Each of the three
governates named above habitually disregards the daily allocation,
and refuses to disconnect customers ("load shed"). Provincial
disregard of the allocation orders is the predominant contributor to
Baghdad's suppressed available hours of power (HOP) and national
4. Despite the allocation violations, supply in two of the three
provinces falls short of demand and citizens
in all three are provided something less than 24 / 7 service. This
has created public pressure on elected provincial governors to do
something, particularly because they have power plants located in
their back yards. Local press stories have reported that people
think that but for helping to supply Baghdad, their plants would be
sufficient to provide them electricity full time.
5. At the same time the governors are facing local dissatisfaction
over power shortages, they have also
been taken to task publicly by the central government for refusing
to assist the ME in getting more power to Baghdad by conforming to
the daily provincial allocations. In classic Chicago political
patois, they are being "middled."
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Technical Consequences of Disconnecting From the Grid
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6. The fragility of the Iraqi national electricity grid is
substantially due to the strains put on it by trying to keep it in
balance when its generation base is not keeping pace with incessant
growing demand. The daily challenge for the ME is managing an
equitable distribution of scarcity and keeping electricity flows
reasonably balanced among demand (load) centers, which pull the
electric flows toward them. If the ME cannot balance generation and
load the network becomes more unstable and disruptions like
blackouts become more frequent and damaging. Significant
disconnections like those being suggested by the governors would
starve the network of generation and hamstring the ME from being
able to balance the system. It would certainly result in major
network failures.
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The Unreality of Sustainable Provincial Self-Sufficiency
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7. Disconnections from the grid would ultimately not buy the
provinces their desired electricity independence and would not
increase consumption levels appreciably from where they are today.
8. Anbar Province is a unique case of near self-reliance because
the severed 400 KV lines that pass through it to Baghdad from
Haditha Dam have allowed it to operate largely as an island. There
is a myth that Anbar is already self-sufficient, but the province
does not meet its total provincial demand. It still draws grid power
from a 132 KV line that is still energized. Without more generation,
however, Anbar cannot disconnect its way to self-sufficiency. Anbar,
of course is a stability success showcase, which perhaps argues for
BAGHDAD 00002757 002 OF 002
taking a posture of benign neglect in this matter.
9. Basrah only meets about 60% of its demand, and does so by
grossly violating the allocation directives from the ME. It's
capable of generating only 36% of its own load. The province could
meet about 70% of its current load when the power line between
Basrah and Iran, which is planned to import 200 MW of Iranian power
comes on line later this year. But even then it will still fall
short and in the interim the population will experience a
precipitous decline in electric power.
10. Najaf, with the most vocal governor on the subject, is only
able to serve about one-third of its current demand from the
provincial power plants, making it the least likely to achieve
11. Notwithstanding provincial generation shortfalls that stand in
the way of electricity autonomy, central government refusal to
cooperate could also doom the success of any unilateral
disconnections. Refusal to supply fuel, spare parts and maintenance
crews to the generation units would either close them down or force
them to literally establish their own public utility companies.
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The Real Dangers of Promoting Disconnecting
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12. As of now, no provincial authority has taken any concrete
action to disconnect its electricity network assets from the
national grid. They do continue to take more power for their
provinces than the ME allotment authorizes and will continue to do
as long as the ME is in the business of managing scarcity. This will
continue to be the greatest source of network instability and the
power shortchanging of Baghdad until and unless the central
government takes action to stop them.
13. Implementing the kind of wholesale disconnection of generation
plant this chorus of governors is suggesting, however, could trigger
a profoundly destabilizing situation that would crash the system
entirely for a substantial period. It would also remove any
realistic chance of increasing power to Baghdad for the foreseeable
14. It is not surprising that as popularly elected officials the
governors are using parochial resentment toward Baghdad as political
cover to deflect public dissatisfaction over the scarcity. And, they
likely do harbor hopes of keeping the power. Disaggregating the
system in this way, however, would have the immediate effect of so
destabilizing the national grid that it would cause black outs
throughout the remaining provinces and further deplete the pool of
available power for Baghdad. This is not an unheard of situation.
The provincial governors' response to shortage of electricity -
seeking to capture domestically generated power - reminds us of
pressures faced in the past by Washington State and Oregon governors
to explore ways to block exports of their hydro-electric power to
energy-short California.
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