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Sgt. Ryan Merriman of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery patrols the Taji Power Station on Tuesday. Local residents typically receive between 12 and 16 hours of power from the national grid each day, well above what residents in Baghdad receive.

Sgt. Ryan Merriman of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery patrols the Taji Power Station on Tuesday. Local residents typically receive between 12 and 16 hours of power from the national grid each day, well above what residents in Baghdad receive. (Leo Shane III / SnS)

TAJI, Iraq — Residents living around this northern Baghdad suburb have begun complaining about the two- to four-hour blackouts that happen here daily. U.S. soldiers consider it a huge success.

That’s because in some areas south, especially in parts of the Iraqi capital, one or two hours of electricity a day from the national power grid is the norm.

While not ideal, the 14-plus hours of electricity residents of Taji receive — and even more in the areas in the more rural north — is a testament to how far the region has progressed, according to Maj. Anthony Barbina, brigade engineer for the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

A year ago, a few short hours of power was the best residents could hope for.

"It all starts with electricity," he said. "You can’t irrigate the fields without power to run pumps. You can’t run factories without power. That’s why this is so important."

Iraqi residents are charged a flat fee for electricity, regardless of how much they use or receive. U.S. troops said they see few efforts among residents to conserve power even with the frequent blackouts, with many refusing to turn off TV sets and air conditioners even as the lights dim.

Barbina said the fact that the population around Taji is sparser and rural is a major reason it can receive more electricity than the most densely populated parts of Baghdad. Residents have fewer illegal taps than in the city, and the drain of thousands of air conditioners and appliances here doesn’t compare to the hundreds of thousands in the capital’s homes.

Barbina also credits local residents with doing a good job of protecting their substations and area power plants, helping keep clear lines to their homes and businesses. As the security situation improved over the last year, the existing infrastructure enabled locals to receive more services.

That’s led to more expectations, too.

"They’re kind of spoiled up here," Barbina said, laughing.

Iraqi government officials view the area as a potential solution to the greater region’s power problems and already have a series of substations and new plants planned in Baghdad’s northern edges.

The Qudas Power Plant, just outside Taji, was scheduled to begin operations this month but has been delayed until the end of October. Once operational, it should provide 55 megawatts of power, about half dedicated for the local community and the rest transmitted south to the capital.

"This is a prototype for what we need to do," said Mohammed Mohammadeen, a projects department supervisor for the country’s Ministry of Electricity. "Plans for 12 similar plants throughout the country have already been approved."

The Qudas plant has taken three years to build and cost $35 million, paid by the government of Iraq. It will use three massive generators built from ship engines that run on unprocessed crude oil, a resource that Mohammadeen said the country has in abundance.

Along with the set-up and technical operating issues that come with operating any Western power plant, Mohammadeen said he still has to worry about security for his plant, working with police and military officials to secure the area.

Barbina said U.S. officials are working with government agencies to find ways to provide trained workers to maintain the facility, a resource that’s much more scarce in the region.

"[The plant] could mean so much for so many people," he said. "But long term, if we don’t get the operators to run it, all this will have gone to waste."


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