Cablegate: Electricity Issues in Basrah

DE RUEHBC #0082/01 2511451
R 081451Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: REO Discussions with a wide range of contacts
revealed an intermittent supply of 8 to 9 hours of grid
electricity per day for Basrah, with ever rising demand. Single
family or neighborhood for-profit generators are common, as is
theft from grid lines. The lack of consumer billing provides no
incentive to reduce demand. Basrah's refusal to cut load may be
rooted in historical distrust of Baghdad. Generator fuel
availability is insufficient. PRT and Army Corps of Engineers
projects are helping to improve the system, but long-term
maintenance deficiencies are troubling. Oil field generators
have excess capacity that could be tapped. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Electricity generation in Basrah is insufficient and
demand continues to rise. To obtain information for this cable,
REO officers talked with Basrah University professors,
Provincial Council members, Provincial officials, political
party contacts, sheiks and clerics. The answers were
surprisingly uniform. It is still dangerous for
Coalition-related foreigners to travel outside the Basrah Air
Station, so it is difficult to verify oral reports.

3. (U) By uniform accounts, grid electricity is on for a pattern
of two hours at a time, followed by four hours of no
electricity. (One contact reported three hours on, three hours
off.) This pattern is counterproductive for general business
activity and certainly for state-owned industries such as water
and sewage systems. In poor neighborhoods, it is common for a
wealthier person to own a generator with which he sells
electricity to his neighbors. It is commonly reported that
everyone who can afford a generator owns one. All of our
contacts with whom we spoke have their own generators and noted
that a frequent problem was insufficient generator fuel.

4. (U) Splicing into grid electric lines to draw off electricity
is common. Contacts noted that even if police were to arrest
someone for theft of electricity -- which never happens -- the
judicial system would not punish him. Some politicians were
nostalgic for Saddam Hussein's regime because of its absence of
crime; if a person were caught stealing electricity, he was
executed. Most commentators reported that consumer electricity
during Saddam's regime was about the same as now: 2 hours on and
4 off.

5. (U) The Basrah Electricity Authority has a billing process
for electricity consumption, but it is not in use. Although
there is new home and business construction in Basrah, there is
no active system to sign up (for fee) new users. (Note: The
Basra PRT and Army Corps of Engineers recently conducted a
workshop to improve management of electricity and other
infrastructure, reported Septel. End Note.) While hard to
quantify, it was universally reported that consumption of
electricity has increased manifold and continues to increase.
Where people had one air conditioner or fan, they now have six.
People that had a radio in their house now have satellite
television. (Note: Some USG experts in Basrah note that the
commonly reported demand in the province for electricity,
1200mw, would probably be around 900 if electricity was metered
and people had to pay for it. Conversely, if supply increased,
demand would simply increase even faster as there is still
plenty demand for air conditioners and other consumer items.
End Note.)

6. Basrah substation managers are refusing at times to comply
with directions from the Ministry of Electricity (ME) to shed
load, it was commonly acknowledged. Some commentators noting
that militia forces threaten substation managers into not
reducing Basrah load when directed. Many noted a historic
suspicion of Basrawis towards Baghdad, rooted in the common
perception that Basrah had always produced power for the
national system while the needs of the people in the populous
province were not met. Under Saddam's regime, if a substation
manager had withheld electricity, he would have been executed.
With little law enforcement in Al-Basrah, it was not surprising
to many commentators that local managers would withhold
electricity now that they could get away with it.

7. (SBU) Governor Muhammed Wa'eli, in an August 30 REO meeting
(Ref A), claimed that Basrah produces 7-800 Mw, with half of
that powering the oil facilities and ports - leaving only around
450mw for Basrah. He agreed that electricity consumption in
Basrah has increased due to a higher job growth rate than other
provinces and increasing use of appliances. Wa'eli suggested
forming a committee to survey electrical consumption in order to
demonstrate to Baghdad the increased Basrah demand.

8. (SBU) Discussions with private contractors that have worked
on electricity generation noted that oil production facilities

BASRAH 00000082 002 OF 002

have been withholding electricity from the national grid. In
one account, contractors involved in installing generation
capacity for oil fields (to power their own operations) had
excess capacity built in to feed that excess to the national
grid. The contractors wanted to test the designed maximum load,
since the oil facilities would only need a fraction of the load.
The site managers would not allow this for fear that the central
government would learn that there was excess generation capacity
and it would all be taken for Baghdad.

9. (SBU) USG programs to improve generation are numerous and
largely successful, but fuel supply and maintenance are
obstacles. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a number of
substation projects in the province, and the Basra PRT is
financing a $11.2 million 132kV Power Feeder cable. All
projects face an important limitation that U.S. citizens cannot
visit the projects due to threats from militias; however the PRT
and ACE have noted that they have good Iraqi engineers who
supervise projects and use digital imaging to assess progress.

10. (SBU) The greater problem is lack of maintenance once these
projects are finished; in all discussions, including with
Basrawis, it was noted that Basrawis are not planning for,
budgeting for or executing maintenance for sophisticated
machinery. Electric transmission lines, while not suffering
from much sabotage in Basrah, do suffer from lack of regular
maintenance. Other commentators have noted the generators built
in 2003 and 2004 -- of a type quickly built but short-lived -
were now wearing out. A recent workshop (Septel) by the Basrah
PRT and ACE to train politicians, technical directors and
academics in electricity system management should help to meet
electricity needs in Basrah.

© Scoop Media

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