Iraq opens power plant in south as blackouts intensify during hot summer

Prime Minister says the development will generate Iraqi gas to all southern governorates

The sun sets behind the transmission lines of electric power from Iran to Iraq in Basra.  AP
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Iraq opened a new power station on Sunday in the southern province of Maysan as chronic power cuts worsened during the country's scorching summer months.

Iraq is struggling with drought, sandstorms, desertification and a drop in water levels following decades of conflict and war that has depleted its infrastructure.

Repeated blackouts caused angry citizens to take to the streets to vent their frustration with the government's lack of action.

The government reacted with force in late 2019, resulting in over 600 deaths and thousands injured, mainly in the south.

Iraq has however, managed to increase the amount of generated electricity in recent years, despite government investment in the sector trailing far behind expenditure on oil and gas infrastructure and security.

Electricity output was only 13 gigawatts in 2014, but reached 21 gigawatts in 2022, according to electricity ministry figures, a significant rise despite the war with ISIS in the interim period.

But crumbling distribution infrastructure means that despite new power plants being built, a high percentage of power is lost before reaching communities.

Demand varies throughout the year, but could be as high as 30 gigawatts during the scorching summer months.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visited the province and inaugurated the Maysan investment plant for the production of electric power.

The new power plant will generate a capacity of 0.75 gigawatts of electricity, said Mr Al Kadhimi's office.

It will use modern technology that is environmentally friendly and will use Iraqi natural gas from the Halfaya and Bazerkan fields, both in Maysan province, it said.

The government in Baghdad on Sunday discussed the challenges that high temperatures are imposing on the country's power system.

“This station constitutes a qualitative addition of electric power in all our governorates, and Maysan Governorate will be the first beneficiary,” Mr Al Kadhimi said during the opening.

Mr Al Kadhimi said the development “will help reduce dependence on imported gas, as it operates on locally produced gas and will provide the national grid with more electricity production”.

“The public is waiting on the government to provide them with services and job opportunities, and it is unreasonable for the government to remain unable to do so,” the prime minister said.

Owing to the continuing government formation process, Baghdad has not been able to allocate a budget, meaning that it cannot meet the public's demands, Mr Al Kadhimi said.

Iraq is the second largest Opec oil producer. However, it has been relying on Iran to import its gas after large-scale projects to capture and use its own gas reserves suffered long delays.

In the interim, Baghdad has been forced to rely on Tehran for about a third of its power sector demands.

At times Tehran has switched off supplies to neighbouring states, struggling to provide enough supply during times of high demand, in cold winters and hot summers.

Iraq has also struggled to find ways to pay Iran for the gas amid sharp declines in the price of oil during the war on ISIS and the Covid-19 crisis. That has resulted in long power cuts for most of Iraq's 40 million population.

Last month, the electricity ministry said the country would face power shortages after crucial energy supplies from Iran were cut over non-payment.

Iraq is ranked among the world's 20 most corrupt countries by Transparency International, an anti-corruption non-government organisation.

The electricity ministry is viewed as one of the most corrupt state institutions by Iraqis.

Updated: July 03, 2022, 1:34 PM