Power cuts and power plays in Kurdish Iraq

Power cuts and power plays in Kurdish Iraq
Energy crisis prompted by refugee crisis and federal squabbles threatens local businesses and residents, and is likely to deepen as winter sets in.
4 min read
17 December, 2014
Baghdad stopped shipments of liquid gas to the Kurds [Anadolu]

Hassan Othman al-Douli cannot tell his clients when their orders will be ready. He runs a workshop that makes wooden furniture close to the historic Erbil citadel in the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq. The carpenter fears losing all his customers who will not wait for the energy crisis that has stifled many businesses to finish.

Recently, power cuts have reached unprecedented levels in the Kurdish region. Douli uses heavy machinery in his workshop. Neither his private generator, nor the public generator provide enough power to run his machines during power cuts.

     In the beginning power cuts lasted just a few hours during the day, but soon they were non-stop, both day and night.

In an interview with
al-Araby al-Jadeed, Douli said the cuts lasted just a few hours a day in the beginning, so his employees worked at night. However, the cuts soon became non-stop, both day and night.

The crisis spreads

Sabah Hamo owns a small restaurant next to Douli’s factory. Initially the power cuts did not affect him as he uses gas for cooking. However, now the crisis has deepened there are shortages of even gas, as consumers hunt for alternatives. He is now considering closing his restaurant.

"I used to buy a cylinder of cooking gas for $4, but the price has jumped to about $10 and it is still hard to find it for that price," Hamo told al-Araby.

"Electricity is non-existent most of the time, gas prices are high and the quality is low, and liquid gas prices are also high.

"They need to invent something that generates heat without the need for fuel," he jokes.

A harsh winter is predicted this year, with low temperatures forecast across the region. Combined with the current energy crisis, this will make life very difficult.

Increased demand

Omid Ahmed, the director of the control centre at the ministry of electricity in the Kurdish province said: "The electricity problem is due to increased demand, and not because of failings in the system."

He said there were no problems until November 2014, and that the province used to receive more than 23 hours of electricity a day, the highest average in Iraq. However, demand reached 4000mw after a cold period in early November. This exceeded 3000mw, the maximum the ministry can provide.

Demand rises at about 4 percent a year in most countries. In Kurdish Iraq, demand is increasing by 20 percent.

The large number of refugees in the province has exacerbated the situation: Relief agencies estimate there are more than two million extra people in three big refugee camps in Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah, as well as dozens of unregulated complexes.

     Demand has increased due to the large number of refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Ahmed says the ministry of natural resources needs to allocate greater quantities of petrol and liquid gas for the region to offset the increased demand for electricity. In addition, he argues the ministry is not implementing its strategic plan to increase production to 6000mw by 2016, by building new power stations and expanding old ones.

Lack of supply

Abdullah Bisher, director of a liquid gas factory in Erbil says the price of cooking gas has increased because the federal government has halted truck shipments of liquid gas to the Kurdish province.

Shamal Nouri, a member of the Economists’ Union calls for a control body to be established to manage such crises and stop them adversely affecting the economy. He says the crisis would have been avoided if measures had been taken to store liquid gas, kerosene and petroleum over the summer months when demand was lower.

The trade union official told al-Araby that the current financial crisis in the Kurdish province has put the "intelligent electricity meters" project on hold, aimed at controlling electricity consumption.

The black market

According to expert Awat Shiekh Bazini, alongside the recent cold wave and influx of refugees, the "black market" has also contributed to the energy crisis.

Bazini said that fuel dealers made enormous profits on the black market, where a gas cylinder is sold at twice the normal price, and a barrel of petrol costs a little over $200.

But none of this helps ordinary people. Douli does not understand concepts he hears in the media such as speculation, monopoly and the black market. He wants a real and fast solution so he will not go bankrupt, after many of his clients cancelled their orders and started buying imported furniture instead.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.