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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

American Forces Press Service

Engineers Work Together to Improve Iraq's Power Production

American Forces Press Service

March 28, 2005 – As March draws to a close, temperatures in Iraq are on the rise. Getting more electricity on the national grid is of foremost concern as the summer months draw near. An international team of engineers and technical professionals at the Bayji power plant has spent the past nine months working to get an additional 270 megawatts of power on the grid, which is enough energy to power more than 200,000 Iraqi homes and businesses.

In April 2004, a $64 million contract was awarded to Odebrecht-Austin, Joint Venture to rehabilitate two gas turbine units, each capable of generating 135 megawatts of power. After months of hard work, the units had “first fires” Feb. 25 and March 11 and started applying power to the national grid March 3 and 16. Final reliability tests are being performed, and the project will be transferred to the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity this month, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said.

OAJV began work at Bayji in June 2004. The plant, which is located along the Tigris River, is a central location for oil lines and 400 kilovolt transmission lines that feed electricity to various parts of the country.

“This site is ideal for refurbishing and increasing the reliability of current power generation,” said Bob Kennedy, resident engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Kennedy’s background in electrical engineering was heavily utilized during the rehab. As the resident engineer, he provides construction oversight and quality assurance. The project’s intent was to restore the two units to a level where power could be generated on a reliable basis, he explained.

“The overall objective is to increase power output and capacity through immediate rehabilitation of this plant,” Kennedy said. “The project includes the assessment, replacement and rehabilitation of all essential generation components, fuel infrastructure, substations and transmission lines, subordinate equipment, transformers, electrical switchgears and other devices necessary for the production of reliable power for Iraq.”

When the contractor’s personnel arrived, they found only a shell, Kennedy explained. The turbines were only partially constructed, and the plant had been abandoned for four years. Project materials sat unused for several years, and some had been removed and used elsewhere.

The project has employed as many as 1,100 Iraqis, and workers from all around the world have contributed. The project has been an international effort among Americans, Brazilians, Canadians, Chileans, Colombians, English, Germans, Indians, Iraqis, Irish, Jordanians, Scots, and Turks, Kenney said. “Together they have all worked as a team, fully committed to Bayji. They turned many obstacles around and overcame daily challenges.”

The Bayji area and the pipeline around the plant have been targets for the insurgency, Kennedy explained. When insurgents attacked an oil pipeline near Bayji, a picture Kennedy took of the resulting fire reached the Pentagon several hours later and was used to brief President Bush. The oil fire burned through a 400-kilovolt line, which fell into the river and created a cascading effect, causing 90 percent of the power in the country to “trip off line,” Kennedy said.

Company officials expressed pride in their work on the project. “We are proud of our contribution to the improved living conditions of so many people, as well as the trust of our client on our ability to deliver in such a harsh environment,” said Paulo Suffredini, executive vice president with OAJV.

Completion of the contract required expertise in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as tenacity and lots of hard work. The contractor was able to move around the axiom, “You can’t do things quickly in Iraq,” Kennedy said.

“The Odebrecht materials manager could get almost anything from anywhere to this plant in several days,” he said. “On several occasions he got replacement electronic modules from Germany in less than 24 hours. The project team constantly adapted to meet the needs of the moment and had a great management team.”

Now that the project is complete, Kennedy, who arrived at Bayji in September, is preparing to leave for his next assignment. “This is exactly what I was looking to do to help the Iraqi people,” he said. “When I get home after my 13 month tour, I will go home knowing I have done something useful for mankind and my Iraqi friends. This was truly an experience of a lifetime.”

Since the “Restore Iraqi Electricity” mission began in late 2003, over 1,900 megawatts of power have been added to the national grid, enough to service 5.4 million Iraqi homes. Over 1,400 electrical towers and 8,600 kilometers of transmission lines have been installed and over $4 billion have been allocated from the U.S. supplemental to address the electrical system improvements.

The successful rehabilitation of units 3 and 4 has added an additional 10 percent to the Iraqi grid, Suffredini said. “The project will provide for substantial easing of living conditions for the Iraqi people,” he said. “We are proud of what we have accomplished here.”

(Nicole Dalrymple works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Northern District.)

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