DAMS CONSTRUCTION MUST BE UNDERTAKEN ON WAR FOOTINGS

The government must start work on war footings to produce at least 1000 MW additional power in the next few months to avoid load shedding in early next year

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Islamabad
 Oct 10 - 16, 2005

The present government has committed to the nation to provide electricity and clean drinking water to all by 2007, however, the ground reality appears to be entirely different.

At a recent meeting to review progress on power production sector, the Prime Minster was informed of the looming deficit in electricity generation. It was stressed that the government must start work on war footings to produce at least 1000 MW additional power in the next few months to avoid load shedding in early next year.

By 2010 the country would need another 5000 MWs to meet its demand which may go up to 10,000 MWs by 2025. Thermal power produced through furnace oil is an immediate remedy but its production cost has almost become unaffordable. Prohibitive coal-fed and the hydle source of energy seems to be only alternative but it is a much longer process. Nuclear energy is the ideal solution but this concept is still in its infancy in Pakistan.

Pakistan currently produces about 11500 MWs of electricity about 6000 MWs hydle, 5000 MWs thermal and about 300 MWs through nuclear sources. Thermal power cost is becoming unaffordable, even the international donor agencies have advised the Pakistan government to focus on hydle power and start work one or two big dams without any further loss of time.

With growing pace of economic activities the demand for electricity is rising at a very fast rate, while more water is needed for bringing in more land under cultivation for increasing agricultural production. The existing dams, barrages and reservoirs have reached the limits of their capacity. The walls of the Mangla dam are being raised to store more water. But that will only improve the situation marginally. As for Tarbela, the world's biggest earth-filled dam, it has lost at least 30 percent of its storage capacity as a result of silting. De-silting is not an easy task and the cost is formidable. This leaves the government with no option but to build a big dam, which could provide electricity and store irrigation water to be released in leaner months. Now the question is: Basha or Kala Bagh, or both.

The technical committee on energy requirement and resources have advised that both Kala Bagh and Bhasha would be needed to meet energy requirement of the country by year 2020. Work on Kala Bagh should start in 2006 and Bhasha in 2008 to be completed by 2014-15 and 2016-17, respectively. World Bank has offered financial assistance for both the projects.

After the meeting of the Water and Power Management Committee and a presentation by the Ministry of Water and Power in Islamabad last week both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz declared that a decision on the construction of mega water reservoirs will be taken shortly in keeping with recommendations of the parliamentary and technical committee. Earlier talking to the members of the technical committee led by its chairman Mr. AGN Qazi, President Musharraf declared that the provinces are not more averse to the construction of Kala Bagh dam as their qualms on the projects have been aptly allayed. Funds for the construction of this dam of vital national importance are also available. The final decision will be taken soon.

The construction of new dams is essential for the promotion of agriculture and generation of hydle power, which are so vital for sustained national development. Its encouraging that there is a consensus among all members of the technical committee for creation of additional water storage facility in the country. The inordinate delay in taking decision in this connection is, however, irritating. Not only the successive past governments had wasted about three decades due to their evasive conduct on the issue in the name of consensus, the present one has also failed to take decision as to which reservoir should be built first, over the past six years. Millions of acres feet of water is being allowed to go into the sea every day in the absence of any major storage facility. The delay in decision on the dam is really intriguing, as Pakistan desperately needs more major dams to cater to the nation's water needs in the years and decades ahead. The necessity of new dams is quite clear from the ongoing differences which may become more intense in the coming years with the increase in water requirements of the provinces. There can be no two opinions about the need to protect the provinces' legitimate rights, but the irony is that the national consensus syndrome has taken too long to cure. It's rather overstretched unnecessarily. If there is a consensus among the members of the technical committee having representation from all the provinces what's preventing the government to make the committee recommendations public. Why should there be delay on this count when the government recognizes the urgency of the construction of new dams in the country. President Musharraf must show courage to make the announcement about the construction of Kalabagh Dam without any further delay.

In the meanwhile the government has directed the relevant department to arrange production of 1000 MWs on war footings in public or private sector to avoid feared load shedding next year. The decision was taken at a meeting held under the chairmanship of Water and Power Secretary Ashfaq Mahmood, which was convened to discuss power generation prospects for 2006-07 last week.

"We need 600MWs additional power in Wapda and 300 MWs in KESC systems, which will be arranged either through the public or private sector to avoid power shortage next year," the sources said. They said Wapda officials present at the meeting said that 87MW electricity could be arranged through re-fabrication of Wapda's power plants, while the remaining shortage could be met with the establishment of dualfired power plants in the public sector at three locations, i.e. Nandipur, Faisalabad and Ludaywala.

After a detailed discussion on the projected demand and supply, the water and power secretary directed Wapda's high-ups to meet gas requirements for power generation and the gas director general has been asked to confirm the availability of gas for this purpose by Saturday. While considering another option, the meeting decided that Independent Power Producers (IPPs) should be asked to come forward and establish power plants during 2006 on a tariff comparatively higher than the IPPs already in the pipeline, the sources said, adding that the projects, however, would be given on competitive bidding.

The KESC representative did not bring any solid proposal to meet power shortage in Karachi in the coming years, however, the meeting observed that the requirement would be partly met with the induction of Western Energy Limited (WEL) and some supply from Wapda. They said the water and power secretary would submit a report to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz next week, proposing practical steps to avoid load shedding in the years to come.

Focusing its attention on the hydle power the Private Power and Infrastructure Board has awarded contracts of seven projects for production of about 1800 MW. All the seven sites are located in NWFP and Azad Kashmir and one is likely to be completed in Bhue in four years.

The authorities should focus on plans to provide electricity at affordable cost. It is not possible through thermal power. It should concentrate on hydle power, coal fired power station, increasing nuclear power and using alternative sources of energy. Recently at an international coal conference held in Islamabad it was highlighted both by Pakistani and international experts that Pakistan could produce huge electricity at a very cheap cost by using its coal deposits. Pakistan has large deposits of coal mainly in Thar, which could produce over 40,000 MW of electricity.

While working on this long-term plan we should not further delay the construction of new water storage facilities. Two former chairmen of Wapda, one of whom hails from Frontier, have cautioned in very clear cut and explicit words that if the construction of new dams was not undertaken urgently, then within the next 10 years the country would be facing severe power shortage. All preparatory work on Kala Bagh is ready after huge investment and its construction should start immediately on war footings. Bhasha can follow the suit.