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Baghdad's Current Problem: Regulating Private Power - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq’s capital throbs to the hum of thousands of polluting generators, but now the authorities in Baghdad want to regulate the private power network that has developed amid the ruins of the public grid.

Under a plan being drawn up by the city, private operators will be forced to provide eight hours of electricity per day outside the time when the supply is provided by the authorities — or see their licences revoked.

“We want the owners of the 4,000 private generators registered with us to distribute electricity to clients during the eight-hour period for a fixed price,” said Haidar Enad, an official with the city’s electricity department.

“The supply of electricity should come out of the hours in which the population receives public electricity. If suppliers disobey us, they will not be able to work and we will give their licences to someone else.”

Baghdad’s power grid was bombed, looted and sabotaged during and after the US-led invasion in 2003.

In the wake of long unfulfilled American promises that the supply of electricity will be properly restored, residents of the city of six million have increasingly relied on privately run generators to power their homes.

The electricity shortfall meant many Baghdadis had to buy their own generators in 2004, and by 2006 the people of some neighbourhoods had banded together and subscribed to large collective generators bought by entrepreneurs.

“We started doing this two years ago. We had to buy a generator of 250 kilowatts for 170 million Iraqi dinars (14,200 US dollars) to provide electricity to 170 homes,” said Abdullah Ali, 53, who lives in Hurriyah in western Baghdad.

He and his partner Mutashar Abdel Razak, 45, charge homes 10,000 dinars (8.5 dollars) a month for one ampere for eight hours daily.

But a normal home in Baghdad needs about five amperes to power basic amenities — a refrigerator, television, computer and lights as well as specialised air conditioners known as desert coolers.

For five years, Iraq’s state power group has provided an intermittent service of between four and eight hours of electricity a day, depending on the area and the season.

To ensure more even distribution, the municipality wants private entrepreneurs to ensure eight hours of power are provided in addition to that supplied by the city, but the proposal has meet with some resistance.

“If they ask us to subtract these hours we will have nothing left in our pockets. The amount of discounted diesel we get is enough for just 20 days. We need to buy the rest on the black market,” said Ali.

Currently, 1,000 litres (264 gallons) of state-supplied diesel costs 400,000 dinars (333 dollars), as against 750,000 dinars on the black market.

“If the municipality goes ahead with this plan, we will stop work or buy diesel only on the black market and then raise our prices 30 percent,” said Abdel Razak.

In Hurriyah district, home to 52,000 families and 170 registered community generators, the electricity department’s proposal has been well received by consumers, however.

“I live in a flat that looks like a cave. I subscribe to three generators to receive 24 hours of electricity,” said Jinane, 52, a civil servant.

“I pay 180,000 dinars (150 dollars) each month, so this is a good thing because I will save a third,” she added.

Taxi driver Ayad Hassoun, 30, also subscribes to a collective generator and has his own small generator to top up supplies.

“If the collective generators stop this will be a disaster. I would pay 180,000 dinars (150 dollars) a month for fuel, four times more than my current subscription,” said the father of three.

Electricity production in Baghdad now meets just 55 percent of the total demand of 8,898 kilowatts, according to US State Department statistics.

But meeting the shortfall is unlikely to happen soon, said Falah, 45, an engineer at an electricity-generating station in the capital.

“The supply is divided into three phases: production, transmission and distribution. At each stage there are technical problems, sabotage or corruption,” he said.