ELECTRICITY LOAD SHEDDING IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Nov 03 - 09, 2008

Like other provinces, Balochistan is also facing frequent and unannounced electricity load shedding, as the winter sets in. Provincial capital Quetta is currently witnessing 8 to 10-hour long electricity load shedding daily. On the other hand, the unannounced electricity load shedding in some areas of Quetta city has made the lives of citizens more difficult. The frequent power outage has become a normal practice affecting the students who are currently preparing for their annual examination due next month. The situation is getting worse for the local traders and businessmen, as business activity slows down with the fall in temperature during winter.

The power consumption is largely for domestic purpose in the province. Being the least populous province, Balochistan consumes the least power, as compared to other provinces of the country. According to one estimate, the province's total power needs does not go beyond 1500 mega watts, and the coastal areas get electricity from Iran. On the other hand, Karachi city needs 2500 mega watt of power to continue its industrial, commercial and social life in a normal way.

Frequent electricity load shedding in rural Balochistan is affecting the farming community and the agriculture, which is the mainstay for over 75 percent of the local population. According to one estimate, about 229824 hectares of area in the province is irrigated by tub-wells, which have become non-functional due to the frequent load shedding by QESCO. The local farmers have also been complaining against the fluctuation in voltage, which is inflicting additional losses to farmers. The power shortage causes non-availability of water for the crops. The tube wells do not operate fully and efficiently for power shortage and fluctuation in voltage also causes fault in their operations. Water scarcity destroyed many orchards in the northern Balochistan during last five-year period. Last year, electricity load shedding destroyed many crops fruit crops in the province. This time again, the food and fruit crops are facing potential threat from the continual power shortage.

The power shortage should be tackled through efficient power management, both under long-term and short-term programs. The QESCO needs to take immediate measures to tackle the load shedding problems in urban and rural areas of the province. It should reduce the transmission losses from the grid and eliminate unscheduled load shedding.

The Wapda's decision to withdraw subsidy on electricity to local farmers for use of tube-wells should be reviewed and the government should continue the flat rates for supply of electricity to the growers for agricultural purposes.

The government authorities should also take notice of the steady rise in the prices of the small generators in the local market. As the entire country is facing a power shortage and people are looking for other arrangements, some local businessmen are poised to exploit the prevailing situation. The government should take all necessary measures to assuage the general masses' grievances and their difficulties which are continuously intensifying due to load shedding.

Coastal areas in the province have largely been dependent on Iran for electricity requirements. Iran is already supplying electricity through its 132KV line to Mekran, whose requirement is estimated at 17.5MW. The Pasni powerhouse, with a generating capacity of 40 megawatts, could not meet the power requirements of entire coastal region, as its generators incurred faults. Four years back, the Quetta Electric Supply Company constructed the power transmission lines in Mekran at a cost of Rs138 million and finally connected it with Iranian grid system. It saved around Rs700 million that it had previously been spending to operate the gas turbine for power generation.

As a part of government's long-term power strategy, a grid station is under construction in Gwadar. Moreover, 132 KV transmission line from Pasni/Turbat is being extended to Gwadar at a cost of Rs360 million. Eventually, Gwadar will be linked to the national grid as soon as the demand grows for power consumption. The Oman government had given a grant of $100 million to be paid in five years, out of which, electricity generators for the Gwadar port have already arrived. Presently, 35MW power is being imported from Iran through Mand interconnection on 132 KV, Tuftan 2MW on 20KV and Mashkehl 2MW on 20KV.

Pakistan has recently signed a memorandum of understanding to purchase 1,000MW from Iran. The two countries have agreed to expedite the process of importing electricity from Iran to Pakistan. In a recent meeting of Iran's Ambassador to Pakistan Mashaallah Shakeri with Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf, the two sides agreed to launch a transmission line for importing 100MW of electricity from Iran for Gwadar.

Last year, Pakistan signed an agreement with Iranian company Tavanir under which Pakistan will buy 100-megawatt power from Iran for Gwadar deep-sea port in Balochistan. Under the deal, Iran will supply100-megawatt power to Gwadar port from January 2009 through a 170km long 220 KV double circuit transmission line between 220 KV Polan sub station at Iran side and 220 KV Gwadar sub-station. A 100km long line will be constructed in Pakistan and remaining 70 km in Iran. The total cost of the project has been estimated at US$86 million, out of which $26 million will be borne by M/s Tavanir and is included in the tariff, which is 6.25 cent, applicable from December 31, 2008, whereas the remaining $60 million will be borne by Pakistan. The tariff for one year has been fixed at 6.25 cent per unit and it will be reviewed after one year. The import of power can be enhanced up to around 400 MW to meet the future requirement of Gwadar as well as the coastal areas of Balochistan.

The Iranian ambassador had also offered to invest in power projects particularly in hydropower plants and upgrade the country's transmission lines system on low cost. Balochistan coast has tremendous potential in offshore exploration in oil & gas sector, which is yet to be exploited. If offshore drilling were successful, it would give a tremendous boost to Gwadar development, as it would meet entire energy requirements not only of Gwadar but also of Pasni, Turbat and adjoining areas.