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Electric Goalposts

A correspondent wrote in regarding the goalpost-moving issue to ask if anyone is even keeping track of infrastructure issues anymore. It reminded me of a younger, more innocent time when we measured progress by megawatts delivered rather than body bags filled. So at any rate, I cruised on over to the latest edition of the Iraq Weekly Status Report (PDF), the best-kept non-secret in Iraq commentary, and flipped over to page 16 where electricity issues are discussed. Some time in June, we finally got electricity product back up to pre-war levels (note -- prewar levels, Saddam's bad deeds were not responsible for the shortfall) and maintained good moment progressing toward the target (which, IIRC, was originally a June 2004 target, but the WSR no longer notes that information) of 120,000 Megawatt-hours per day until mid-August when we hit a plateau. A September 15 pipeline attack caused a short, huge downward spike after which we recovered to a level just below the previous plateau and then started sinking slowly at the end of September.

In mid-October, the downward trend accelerated a bit due to planned maintenance of the generator equipment during the low-demand season. Then, at the beginning of November things went sharply down -- to back below pre-war levels -- thanks to "unplanned maintenance" a state of affairs that has continued until the release of the latest WSR. Why the unplanned maintenance? Attacks? Insecurity? I have no idea. But for goalposts purposes, let's note that we are not now at the goal, have never been at the goal, and are not even moving in the direction of the goal. Instead, Iraqis have less electricity (but way more phone lines, interestingly enough) than they had before the war.

December 8, 2004 | Permalink

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» Life in Iraq from Political Animal
LIFE IN IRAQ....Matt Yglesias finds himself in a nostalgic mood today and wonders how electricity production is doing in Iraq these days. Via the Iraq Weekly Status Report, it turns out that the answer is: not so great. I note... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 8, 2004 4:03:16 PM

» Could It Be...Oh I Don't Know...Seasonality? from Deinonychus antirrhopus
Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum, have decided to try their hands at energy economics. They looked at this picture of the generating capacity in Iraq (source), and decide things are "bad". But are things as bad as Matthew and Kevin think? Here is the de... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 10, 2004 3:12:48 AM

» Could It Be...Oh I Don't Know...Seasonality? from Deinonychus antirrhopus
Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum, have decided to try their hands at energy economics. They looked at this picture of the generating capacity in Iraq (source), and decide things are "bad". But are things as bad as Matthew and Kevin think? Here is the de... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 10, 2004 3:18:05 AM

Comments

Bring Saddam back: with measly oil-for-food proceeds he managed to maintain law, order, security and decent infrastructure. And while at it, let's put Mr. Bremer into Saddam's jail cell.

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 8, 2004 2:10:31 PM

Interestingly, Matthew, look at last week's status report (the 11/24 report). Here's what it says:

"Despite the large amount of MW offline due to maintenance, the hours of powerhave not been significantly impacted (averaging 12 hours nationwide)."

So, Iraqis actually have AS MUCH electricity as before the "unplanned maintenance", at least on an "hours per day" basis.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:13:12 PM

Bring Saddam back

A perfect representation of the anti-war left. Thanks! I'll be sure to remember that one.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:14:00 PM

note -- prewar levels, Saddam's bad deeds were not responsible for the shortfall


I also don't think you can say this. What is the cause of the difference between the pre-war and post-war periods? You assume that it is the war? I don't think that this assumption is valid. From what I've read, the Iraqi electricity infrastructure was in very bad shape prior to the war, and so we cannot assume that pre-war levels of electricity would simply have stayed the same absent the war.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:17:49 PM

I read some fairly obscure infrastructure trade publications. About 14-16 months ago these pubs were filled with articles about people in the respective industry going to Iraq and getting started. About 10-12 months ago, articles about how well things were progressing.

About 4 months ago, there was a spate of follow-up articles from the same people saying that although they loved the work they had unfortunately had to get their asses out of Iraq before they were murdered, leaving their projects behind unfinished.

Pretty consistent across all the different types of infrastructure. Given magazine publishing deadlines, that means things started to go to hell infrastructurally about 6-7 months ago. Funny we didn't hear about that in Bush's stump speech.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 8, 2004 2:30:26 PM

Well, Al, why not? Mr. Hussein as a manager produced much more impressive results than Mr. Bush while murdering people at a much lower rate.

What is your objection?

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 8, 2004 2:31:19 PM

It's not because he is not white, Al, right?

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 8, 2004 2:32:03 PM

sometimes you really have to compliment Al for his ingenuity. In Al's world, it just so happened that the poorly maintained electrical infrastructure under saddam went to shit at the precise moment in that he blew town. Amazing conincidence, huh? Hat's off to Al for noting its possibility.

As for the phone lines, i was saying to someone just the other day that pretty much the last bastion of "things are going well in iraq" is the story of the expansion of access to telephone service.

Posted by: howard | Dec 8, 2004 2:35:57 PM

> thanks to "unplanned maintenance" a state
> of affairs that has continued until the
> release of the latest WSR. Why the unplanned
> maintenance? Attacks? Insecurity? I have no
> idea.

Being a reality based dude, honesty compels me to point out two things in regards to electric generation statistics: (1) the IEEE's formal definitions of when a generating unit is in outage, and what the source of that outage is, are complex and not always the same as the intuitive definitions.

(2) It is not unusual for a generating unit to go into forced outage right after a planned outage, as more things might have been broken than expected and some things might have broken when you tried to come back on-line. That is why planned outages are scheduled at the beginning of the low demand period not toward the end. I would particularly expect this to happen if the units had not been well-maintained for a period of time (say, since Saddam went totally bonkers around 1988).

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 8, 2004 2:36:10 PM

> In Al's world, it just so happened that
> the poorly maintained electrical
> infrastructure under saddam went to shit at
> the precise moment in that he blew town.

I really hate to support Al in any way shape or form, but this is possible (although see my first post in this thread). You _should_ shut a large industrial system down for maintenance from time to time, but you _can_ keep it running for a long time by ignoring maintenance and operating requirements. Such as if you absolutely must (World War II) or you have no choice (one of Saddam's sons is holding a gun to your head).

If you then go back to a more rational management structure, you will immediately need to take a lot of maintenance time.

I don't think this is the majority of what it happening in Iraq though.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 8, 2004 2:39:28 PM

Al: "I also don't think you can say this. What is the cause of the difference between the pre-war and post-war periods? You assume that it is the war? I don't think that this assumption is valid. From what I've read, the Iraqi electricity infrastructure was in very bad shape prior to the war, and so we cannot assume that pre-war levels of electricity would simply have stayed the same absent the war."

Loved this one. Yes, why in the world should we believe that the massive military attack against Iraq had anything to do with a sudden decline in electrical service there?

And all those destroyed buildings -- it's well-known that Saddam was spending his money on his own palaces while the rest of the country languished in decrepitude. They would have fallen down anyway!

And all those dead people ... well, anyone could get sick and die anytime, especially with the oil-for-food abuses and what not! Can't blame that one on the bombs!

thanks for the giggles.

Posted by: yuk | Dec 8, 2004 2:39:29 PM

In Al's world, it just so happened that the poorly maintained electrical infrastructure under saddam went to shit at the precise moment in that he blew town. Amazing conincidence, huh?


HUH?

Where in the hell did I say that? I'm of the opinion that Saddam's infrastructure was going to hell steadily before the war. What we now know as the "pre-war" level is simply where is had descended to as of March 2003. Absent the war, the electricity level would most likely have simply continued to go downhill, and would have been lower than the March 2003 level in any case.

I've never seen anyone say that "pre-war level" of electricity was a constant from 2003 back to 199X. If you have different info, please share. (You know that reconstruction issues are my hobby-horse - so, really, please share!)

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:43:14 PM

Loved this one. Yes, why in the world should we believe that the massive military attack against Iraq had anything to do with a sudden decline in electrical service there?


Except that we did not target power plants. The "massive military attack" largely was against targets other than electricity infrastructure.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:44:46 PM

Matt, the title of your post, "Electric Goalposts", made me think you would write about goalposts that could be moved using electric power.

Posted by: Matt Taylor | Dec 8, 2004 2:48:17 PM

Given magazine publishing deadlines, that means things started to go to hell infrastructurally about 6-7 months ago. Funny we didn't hear about that in Bush's stump speech.


That would be March/April - when things went to hell in Falluja and with Sadr. I guess that doesn't shock me. We'll see in a few months whether that changed once again once we got back on track with Sadr.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:51:39 PM

Matt, the title of your post, "Electric Goalposts", made me think you would write about goalposts that could be moved using electric power.


Or goalposts that used electric shocks to keep fans from tearing down the goalposts after a big win!

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 2:55:10 PM

Matt has very interesting ideas about goalposts.

Posted by: blah | Dec 8, 2004 3:06:07 PM

"Except that we did not target power plants. The "massive military attack" largely was against targets other than electricity infrastructure."

And we never hit anything we weren't aiming at, right? No way an urban power substation near a military target, for example, could have sustained any damage whatsoever. Especially with our no doubt flawless intelligence in which we can all have such confidence! And power lines running every which way ... those smart bombs just zip right around those! Better than a video game!

(And this is aside from your own hedging with "largely").

Posted by: yuk | Dec 8, 2004 3:09:06 PM

Yuk - I think my "largely" covers all of what you say. I'm not claiming that the war didn't damage the physical infrastructure at all; it surely did. I only claim that we didn't target power plants and other main power infrastructure items.

The fact that power production went down after the war could be due to LOTS of reasons simply resulting from the changed circumstances: Baathists and other sunnis didn't go back to work (they were fired or feared for safety from Shiite workers); workers didn't do as much because the Mukhabarat didn't have a gun to their head; our engineers shut things down when they found out turbines were held together with string and chewing gum; etc.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 5:05:40 PM

Al, thanks for the clarification. My comment would be that the factors you cite ought themselves to be regarded as part of the effects of the war, contrary to your earlier claim that the war was not the cause of the decline in power production. But that is starting to veer in the direction of a semantic quibble. cheers.

Posted by: yuk | Dec 8, 2004 5:13:38 PM

al, presumably yuk has clarified for you, but if he hasn't: when you say that there are lots of potential causes for reduced power other than the effects of war, what you must, by definition, be saying is that the system went to shit on a purely coincidental basis simultaneous with saddam being forced from control. Cranky got it, yuk got it, i got it: surely, since you wrote it, you got it too....

again, kudos for ingenuity.

Posted by: howard | Dec 8, 2004 5:23:58 PM

Frankly, I distinguish between effects of the war itself and effects of Saddam being gone. The latter would have occured no matter what way Saddam's regime ended (that is, they would have occurred if Saddam pulled a Pinochet, or if he was Ceaucescu'd, or he left in some other manner). The former only occurred because we went in blowing up sh*t and killing people.

I realize these are in some ways related. And I realize that you probably reject the distinction. But I don't.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 5:53:20 PM

Some material for your hobby Al:

"The US intends to shatter Iraq "physically, emotionally and psychologically" by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.

The Pentagon battle plan aims not only to crush Iraqi troops, but also wipe out power and water supplies in the capital, Baghdad."

Courtesy of our allies at the Sydney Morning Herald

http://tinyurl.com/5jqq2

I will also say this: I know of someone personally whose job it was to take out power plants in Iraq among other targets during the initial attack.

Also, if you read the reports you're citing they indicate the reason the power plants were in bad condition prior to the war, like the al-Dhouri plant, is that they intentionally bombed to pieces by the U.S. during the Persian Gulf War.


Posted by: Windhorse | Dec 8, 2004 5:56:37 PM

Al, a gradual continued decay under saddam seems like a very likely steady state result, but what we had was a dramatic drop. Ergo, it either would have happened even under saddam or the war - as the one changed variable - was why it dropped off.

And no, i don't reject your distinction, although it requires a foray into parallel realities that i prefer to avoid - did saddam drop dead of a heart attack? did his sons succeed him? was he assassinated? and if so, was it a family member of a saddam victim or a member of an organized group? did the shiites rebel and kill him? - but i don't think it's relevant here. The only question here is what would have occurred in may, 2003 in a steady state compared to what did happen.

Posted by: howard | Dec 8, 2004 6:29:14 PM

Windhorse - can't read your link because it requires registration. However, I doubt very much the truth of the statement. You are correct that much of the original damage to power plant occurred in the original Gulf War (which, of course HAD UN approval). But we specifically avoided attacking power plants this time around because we knew that, unlike in 1991, we'd have to occupy the country and would need those power plants for the occupation.

Posted by: Al | Dec 8, 2004 6:38:37 PM

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