Re-engineering Afghanistan

Comments from the Louis Berger Group on the account of the Kajaki hydroelectric plant reconstruction in IEEE Spectrum's "Re-Engineering Afghanistan," by Glenn Zorpette


1. You write: "What the south has, first and foremost, is the hydroelectric plant at the Kajaki Dam, which is sizable but decrepit."

LBG’s comments and clarification:

We would agree that in 2001 the two existing turbines at the Kajaki Dam hydropower plant were decrepit. It is our understanding that under the Taliban regime the plant was producing 12 megawatts of power, less than 40 percent of its maximum operating capacity.

However, it is not decrepit today. Since the successful rehabilitation of the two existing turbines, the plant is operating at its maximum capacity.

2. You write: "The Kajaki Dam is so strategically important to Helmand and Kandahar that it was among the early targets bombed by U.S. warplanes as the war against the Taliban began in October 2001. The hydroelectric facility has two turbines, known as units 1 and 3, and a bay between them for a third unit (which would be known as unit 2). Unit 3 was damaged in the 2001 bombing and repaired in 2005 and 2006 by CMIC [China Machine-Building International Corp.], a Chinese engineering and manufacturing company."

LBG comments and clarifications:

In 2004, the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] contracted with the Louis Berger Group to repair the two existing turbines—units 1 and 3. The turbines were suffering from disrepair, lack of parts, and wear and tear.

When LBG began work on the turbines for USAID, there was no damage that appeared to result from a bombing to the powerhouse or to either of the existing units.

In September 2005, LBG completed the rehabilitation of unit 1, which had been in the poorest condition.

3. You write: "To rehabilitate Kajaki, USAID hired a contracting firm that was a joint venture between the U.S. contracting firms Black & Veatch and the Louis Berger Group. The joint venture in turn simply hired CMIC to repair unit 3 and also build the turbine-generator, transformers, and related gear for unit 2, which would boost the output of Kajakai from 33 MW to 51.5 MW."

LBG comments and clarifications:

CMIC served as a subcontractor to the Louis Berger Group–Black & Veatch joint venture and was contracted to manufacture unit 2, provide for its installation, perform rehabilitation work on unit 3 and upgrade units 1 and 3 with modern mechanical and electrical systems common to all three turbines.

LBG served as the engineer and construction manager with oversight over CMIC.

4. You write: "Sadly, the heavy-electrical gear still sits unused at Kajakai. One month after Eagle’s Summit, the Chinese engineers from CMIC abruptly left Kajaki. According to a USAID official in Kabul, the engineers realized that the Taliban could not be cleared anytime soon from the area around the road leading to the plant, which meant that there was no chance that NATO could deliver the hundreds of tons of concrete the engineers would need to install the third hydroturbine."

LBG comments and clarifications:

It is critical to understand the background on the project as it relates to the deteriorated and hostile security environment. May 2006 is the last time LBG made a safe ground movement to the Kajaki site. In June 2006, the project came under siege when Taliban cut off access to the dam and surrounded it, forcing technical staff to evacuate. There were sustained rocket attacks on the site throughout the summer of 2006.

In February 2007, two LBG security convoys attempted to move to the project site by ground when they were ambushed by an estimated 200 Taliban and suffered three killed. At that point forward, LBG recognized that the site was behind enemy lines and that the security environment allowed for air movement only.

LBG technical staff was not able to safely return to the project site until October 2007.

In October 2009, LBG completed the rehabilitation of unit 3 after the technical staff team returned to the project site, traveling only by air as ground movement remained too dangerous.

Unit 2 is on site. It cannot be installed until the security improves to allow shipments of needed materials and supplies to be transported by ground. Additionally, the added power from the third turbine could not be utilized until either an upgrade or new transmission line is built.