May 2, 2011

Power struggle

As people continue to suffer long hours of load shedding, the government doesn’t seem to have a plan to tackle electricity shortage

By Shujauddin Qureshi

People are once again experiencing massive power load shedding this summer due to increased demand and decline in power generation. Riots have been reported in many cities as people, frustrated with frequent power outage, do not find an outlet to vent their anger except protest.

The situation in rural areas is even worse as electricity is not available most of the time. In some areas, load shedding extends to as many as 20 hours.

Agriculture is in danger because tube wells cannot operate. Frequent load shedding has virtually ruined the social fabric. Some people say power outages have made their lives miserable as they have to bear the hot summer without a fan. Business and industrial activities in key industrial cities have also come to a standstill as most industries cannot run at their installed capacity due to prolonged power outages.

Every summer, people have to undergo the mental agony due to prolonged hours of load shedding. Even during the last winter, when power demand remained at a minimum level, power companies resorted to load shedding in many parts of the country, especially in Karachi, where Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) continued load shedding.

According to Director General of Pakistan Electric Power Company (Private) Limited (PEPCO), Khalid Ahmed, the total shortfall in the country at the moment is 3995 mega watt (MW) as against total generation of 12206 MW in the country. The hydel power units would generate electricity to their full capacity by July-August when the dams would are full whereas the IPPs are not working properly due to circular debt issue with the PSO on supply of furnace oil.

Successive governments have failed to address the power issue despite gradual increase in the demand for electricity. For example, the last government of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (late) gave a Power Policy in 1994, under which foreign investors were invited to establish power plants in the country. Many Independent Power Producers (IPPs) came and few of them succeeded in installing plants and started generating power. But her government could not last longer and she was removed by her own party’s President on corruption charges. In 1997, Mian Nawaz Sharif was elected as Prime Minister and he scrapped all IPP projects. Country’s foreign direct investment was affected due to row over power rates with the IPPs.

Mr. Sharif gave his own Power Policy in 1998, but unfortunately, he was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. In 2002, General Musharraf announced for Power Generation Projects in 2002. But during his next six-year rule, only 165 MW could be added to the national grid. According to government sources, Pakistan has 17 private power producers with an installed capacity of around 4,500 MW. Some IPPs have to shut down their plants due to non-supply of fuel.

The performance of the present government in solving power crisis has been very disappointing. Since its coming to power in 2008 it has even misguided the nation. First, it assured the people that load shedding would end by December 2009. The energy experts at that time were wondering from where the power would come because no new power generation unit was in the pipeline. That deadline, however, passed. Then the same minister started saying that the government would increase the generation capacity through Rental Power plants (RPPs). In August 2007 the Federal Cabinet approved 2250 mega watt (MW) Rental Power Projects (RPPs). Those units had to run on natural gas and there is acute shortage of gas in the country, so most of the projects could not be materialised.

Presently, the situation is that only one rental power plant has become operational. This major RPP is in Karachi fitted in a floating ship. Put by Turkish company, Karkey Karadeniz Elektrik Uretim the RPP became operational recently, but is facing problems due to non-availability of furnace oil. There is no hope for other rental power plants coming into operations after Supreme Court’s intervention against allegations of corruption in RPPs. The Karkey rental power ship has a generation capacity of 232MW, but due to its dispute on payment with PSO, the plant is not producing power presently.

Anchored since November last year, the ship had generated power for a brief period but, presently, it is not producing power. The government has failed to make other rental power plants operational, particularly after suo motu action by Supreme Court of Pakistan against corruption allegations in RPPs.

Interestingly, under the rules, if an RPP fails to complete the project within 30 days of the agreement, it will be “charged at the rate of $191 per day per megawatt up to a maximum amount equivalent to $17,190 per megawatt for a delay of up to three months.” If the project is further delayed, the government “shall have the right to renegotiate the contract.” But the government did not renegotiate with the owners of the plants, most of them had failed to meet the deadline. Even Karkey project had changed its deadline five times.

“It is unfortunate that these rental projects were granted to unscrupulous elements who wanted to earn immediate profits,” says Majid Aziz, former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry and also former Director of KESC. “We also have to change our lifestyle and acquire the habit of energy saving,” he says adding, “We have to opt for alternative forms of energy for coming out of the crisis situation. Coal can be an option, but it would take five to seven years to generate power from such projects.”

Although the government has formed Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), its performance is dismal. With the efforts of the board only one wind energy plant has become operational. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani inaugurated the 50 MW project on April 19, 2009 at Jhimpir in Thatta district.

There is no hope for improvement in the near future. Before the advent of summer, the government had claimed that duration of load shedding would be less this year, but it remained only a claim.

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