The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report Thursday revealing that a USAID built power plant is extremely underused and in danger of being wasted. USAID attempted to defend itself by saying the plant was only built to provide occasional backup and insurance for Kabul’s electrical grid, not for electrical power on a continuous basis. SIGAR’s report provides evidence that the plant was built for regular usage.
The U.S. constructed power plant was built on the outskirts of Kabul and was intended to supply 18 diesel engines worth of operating power. While Afghanistan’s national power utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat took operational control as well as maintenance of the facility in 2010, the facility only performed at a small percentage of its total capability. Between July 2010 and December 2013, the USAID IG found that the plant performed at a mere 2.2 percent of its potential.
The original design was for the power plant to operate 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Also, the plant hasn’t made any impact on reducing Kabul’s massive energy deficit that USAID says is one of the plant’s main priorities. Not only is it not being used regularly, but it’s not even contributing additional electricity to increase the overall power supply in Kabul. As a result of the underutilizing of the plant, it has suffered premature wear and tear on its engine and electrical components. The damage is expected to raise already steep operation and maintenance costs.
“Affordable and reliable electricity is critical to the economic growth and stability of Afghanistan. However, the construction of a $335 million diesel-fueled power plant outside of Kabul does not seem to have contributed significantly to this important goal since it was handed over to the Afghan government more than five years ago,” said John F. Sopko, the inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in a letter dated August 7 to Donald Sampler, the assistant to the administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs at USAID. “This underutilization has apparently resulted in the premature failure of equipment, which was expected to raise already high operation and maintenance costs, and could result in ‘catastrophic failure,’” according to SIGAR.
This is not the first time SIGAR has looked at the power plant. In July 2014, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill wrote a letter to USAID demanding answers about the power plant’s inefficiency. Several investigations of the plant found that the $325 million project was hampered by delays, mismanagement and preferential treatment given to longtime U.S. contractors Louis Berger and Black & Veatch.
A previous audit of the power plant performed by SIGAR in January 2010 expressed concerns over the facility near Kabul, questioning the wisdom of building a “technically sophisticated fueling operation that [the Afghans] may not have the capacity to sustain.” Congress established SIGAR in 2008 to provide independent oversight and audits of how U.S. funds are spent in Afghanistan. The high cost of operation has resulted in the Afghan government relegating the power plant to the status of “an emergency power source.” The plant went unused during this year’s avalanches.