He said it was important for Afghanistan to be able to generate its own power. In addition to being self-reliant, it could be like countries such as Turkey and various European nations that ease costs by using their transmission systems to buy power from neighbors that can make it cheaply and resell it to others that cant, at a profit.
Afghanistan buys about 80 percent of its power from various neighbors and generates most of the rest via modest hydroelectric plants. There are some hydroelectric projects making slow progress and others in planning, but not enough money and no quick solution coming.
If we need 3,000 megawatts of electricity overall of the country, and we are suppose to produce this amount of energy from our own plants, we will need 16 to 17 years and $5 billion to $6 billion, Khan said.
Most Afghans dont have access to electricity, but DABS is working to add households to the grid; another 175,000 were hooked up last year, Alami said. In Kabul, 75 percent of the population is connected.
Even for those who are hooked up, there isnt enough imported power for full 24-hour service in the city during the cold stretches. Tarakhil is too expensive for the cash-strapped government to run at full power, so its not unusual on the coldest nights for customers to find themselves without power for hours.
Kabul, which has more than 5 million residents, uses just under 370 megawatts at peak, 260 of that from Uzbekistan and the rest mainly from small hydroelectric plants. It could use even more if more customers were connected. "And remember, Kabul is growing," Alami said.
The wider availability of power turned out to be a mixed blessing, since it created more interest in using electric heaters rather than the traditional bukhari wood-burning stoves, and in turn more demand per capita for electricity. In November, DABS issued a warning that it would be forced to increase outages if the use of heaters continued to increase.
The American plant, which was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is useful, Alami said. Its important to have a backup source of power.
Still, he was nothing short of wistful when talking about what could have been done with so much money. Specifically, he said, it could have paid much of the cost of a 200-megawatt hydroelectric plant, which would need no diesel fuel.
Asked what could solve the energy shortage, Alami outlined an Afghanistan that would be among the greenest producers of electricity in the world. Hydroelectric power would have to lead the way, given the estimated 24,000-megawatt potential of the rivers, but there also is plentiful sun and wind.
"We have a lot of water in those rivers, so we have to convince the donors to focus on generation, instead of importing," he said. "Thats the only way."