By Chris Safran
A $335 million U.S. Agency for International Development Office (USAID) investment in the Tarakhil Power Plant in Kabul, Afghanistan is in danger of being wasted or severely underused, according to a release from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The letter outlined concerns that the Afghan government remains unwilling or unable to maintain the power plant, particularly during emergency situations such as the several avalanches in February that created electrical shortages throughout Afghan provinces and killed hundreds.
“USAID OIG found that since the handover in June 2010, the power plant has been severely underused and operated at just 2.2 percent of installed power production capacity,” Sopoko said.
“[T]he blackouts and lack of power throughout Kabul resulting from the avalanches raises questions regarding the efficacy of those actions and the commitment and ability of the Afghan government to operate the Tarakhil Power Plant as needed or when absolutely necessary,” John Sopko said in his letter to USAID administrator Alfonso Lenhardt.
The letter cites a June 2014 investigation by the office of the Inspector General (OIG) assessing the status and sustainability of the Tarakhil Power Plant. Sopoko referred to the OIG review results as “alarming,” expressing concerns that the power plant suffered from lack of use and high cost of operation.
“USAID OIG found that since the handover in June 2010, the power plant has been severely underused and operated at just 2.2 percent of installed power production capacity,” Sopoko said. “[Afghanistan’s national power utility] had limited operations since accepting responsibility for the facility because it couldn’t afford to operate the plant—the fuel alone required to operate the plant as intended was estimated to cost approximately $245 million per year.”
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.
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.”
“It is troubling that we have been participating in the reconstruction of Afghanistan for eight years and there is no updated energy sector master plan against which the U.S. and the international community can contribute and measure success,” said Retired Marine General Arnold Fields, former head of SIGAR, in a statement accompanying the 2010 reports.
Congress established SIGAR in 2008 to provide independent oversight and audits of how U.S. funds are spent in Afghanistan.