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BRI-Backed Power Installations Keeping Lights on Across Half of Iraq

Country edges closer to bridging long-term energy-generation gap as China-funded facilities begin to come online.

Photo: The China-backed Wassit Thermal Power Plant: Now delivering one-fifth of Iraq’s energy requirements.
The China-backed Wassit Thermal Power Plant: Now delivering one-fifth of Iraq's energy requirements.
Photo: The China-backed Wassit Thermal Power Plant: Now delivering one-fifth of Iraq’s energy requirements.
The China-backed Wassit Thermal Power Plant: Now delivering one-fifth of Iraq's energy requirements.

Investment sourced within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China's ambitious international infrastructure development and trade facilitation programme – is set to help transform Iraq's electricity-generation sector as the Middle East nation looks to address its growing power shortfall. At the heart of the country's bid to close its ever-widening supply-demand gap is a 1,260MW power station under construction in central Iraq's Salahuddin province.

The lead developer on the project is the China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC), with the Beijing-headquartered, state-owned, power-plant construction specialist having pledged that the facility, which can run on either natural gas or a mixture of crude oil and heavy fuel oil, will be up and running by the end of next year. Located in the al-Jalsiyah area, south of the city of Samarra and about 120km north of Baghdad, it is envisaged that the plant will generate enough electricity to meet all the commercial and residential needs of the Salahuddin, northern Baghdad and western Diyala provinces.

Following the signing of a US$1.2 billion contract between CMEC and Iraq's Ministry of Electricity, construction work on the plant's two 630MW power generation units began in August 2012. Along the way, the project has had to overcome significant security challenges, including a terrorist attack and a number of territorial incursions. Despite the often fraught conditions, many of the Chinese companies tasked with delivering this priority project refused to be deterred, with one subcontractor – the Shanghai Electric Power Construction Company (SEPC) – receiving a special award from the Ministry of Electricity for continuing to abide by its commitments to Iraq at a time when many other companies had withdrawn staff and reneged on previous agreements.

Once completed, the al-Jalsiyah plant will add to the substantial level of power generation already being delivered by other China-backed projects across the country, with such facilities currently accounting for about half of Iraq's total electricity supply. One of the key BRI-funded projects to have already come online is the giant Wassit Thermal Power Plant. Set about 130km south-east of Baghdad, this SEPC-constructed facility typically accounts for about 20% of the country's electricity supply.

Outlining the scale of the project, He Zhuang, the SEPC Project Manager with overall responsibility for the facility, said: "Operating at peak output, we can provide the capital with 70% of its electricity needs, while also supplying 30% of the whole country's power requirements."

The Wassit plant has four units with a generating capacity of 330MW each and two with a 610MW capacity. All six were connected to the national grid and put into service in 2015 and now deliver a daily output of 56 million kWh. This has reduced the average power outage in the capital from 12 hours a day to just two to four hours.

Another major China-backed energy project is the 840MW Maisan Combined-Cycle Power Plant. Set in the southeast of the country, close to its border with Iran, the first phase of the project will come online in March 2021, with full operation scheduled for early the following year. It is anticipated that the plant will supply sufficient electricity to meet the needs of more than three million Iraqis, while also supporting the industrial sector. The lead developer on the project is the CITIC Construction Company, the Beijing-headquartered civil engineering giant, with Iraq being represented by the Maisan Power Company, a subsidiary of Raban Al-Safina for Energy Projects, a Baghdad-headquartered power-systems specialist.

Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Baghdad

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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