RISING POWER SHORTAGE - CRIMINAL NEGLECT OF SUCCESSIVE GOVERNMENTS

SHAMIM A. RIZVI
Jan 19 - 25, 2009

Unscheduled and prolonged load shedding of electricity and reduction in gas pressure throughout the country during the last 2/3 weeks boiled over on to the streets. Hundred of thousands of people demonstrated in almost all the major cities of the country during the last week raising slogans against the Government.

In some cities demonstrators turned violent and damaged public property. On Thursday last protestors in Faisalabad, main industrial city of Punjab, vented their fury by erecting barricades, burning tyres and damaging dozens of vehicles and stormed the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company Office shouting slogans and throwing stones. The demonstrators in Faisalabad included thousands of workers of textile related factories who were faced with unemployment as the factory owners were closing their units for want of power supply with slight variations. The same happened in many other major cities including Multan and Sialkot where some of the smaller factories had already closed down and the bigger one closed their second shifts due to the forced closer of electricity for up to 12 hours a day.

As it always happens in such situations in our country, the President of Pakistan took a serious notice of the situation and immediately called a meeting of all concerned and directed the Ministry concerned to devise a workable plan to overcome the power shortage. The Minister for Water and Power told the meeting chaired jointly by the President and the Prime Minister, that main reason for the present acute shortage of electricity was the historically low water inflow in our dams which has resulted in the fall of hydro power by ever3000 MWTs.

According to him the water flow was 36% less than it was during the corresponding period last year. In a similar meeting in the President House in July-2008 after similar violent demonstrations in the country over power outages and prolonged load shadings, the same Minister of Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf had explained that the main reason for power shortage was sharp rise in demand for power mainly due to use of air condition.

According to him demand has jumped by about 3000 mwts forcing the Government to load shedding. He assured that the government had fully seized the matter and initiated many programmes to enhance supply position. He assured the nation that situation would improve shortly and there would be no load shedding by the end of 2009. He told the participants that shortfall between supply and demand was about 4500mws.

This correspondent reported in Page issue dated January 21-27, 2008 that the year 2008 will become the third consecutive year when the nation will see intense load shedding and power shortage. The shortfall in supply and demand which averaged 2500mwt during the last two years has increased to over 3000mwt, with the beginning of the year. As the demand will further rise as summer approach, we should prepare ourselves for the worst power shortage rising to about 5000mwts by end of the year.

It was clear to all as we saw nothing happening on the ground to add to the supply side. It is true that the previous governments is to blame for the present severe shortages since it added not a single new power generation plant to the national grid during the last over 30 years, thus causing a huge gap between supply and demand. They failed also to recognize the importance of building small dams wherever possible, getting embroiled instead in big dam controversies. Consequently, we are in a situation where this year's winter season power production is at an all time low. But honesty demands that the present Government should also admit that it has also done practically nothing except lip services to over come the situation getting worst with every passing day.

Nature has been extremely kind to this country blessed with tremendous resources to produce more than four times the present production and suffice to meet our growing demand by at least 100 years. We have known and researched hydro sites to produce more than 3O,OOO MWs at l/5 of the cost of present thermal power. Coal reserves in Thar deserts alone are capable to produce more than 40,OOO MWs of electricity at a much cheaper cost. It is our misfortune that as a result of flawed polices we have failed to make use of this huge potential.

It is a fact that despite tall claims and rhetoric usually made at the highest level, nothing concrete is visible on the ground to ease the worsening power shortage in the country. The power policy-2002 announced by the previous government with a big fan-fare and which was supposed to serve as a better replacement of the 1994 power policy has failed to deliver. No doubt, generation of hydro power is a long process, but there has been a dead silence on major dams despite all earlier rhetoric. The work has not yet started even on the Diamir Bhasha dam, which was inaugurated by the former President of Pakistan about 18 months back.

The government has been talking of importing electricity and gas but practically there has been no progress on any of the several projects. Similarly, despite huge potential in alternative energy we have been extremely slow in exploiting the potential. According to experts Pakistan is blessed with immense resources to produce power at affordable cost. Pakistan has a hydro electricity potential of about 50,000MW while only 6500MW is being utilized at present. We have a potential of producing over 40,OOOMW of electricity through our high quality coal reserve in Thar alone. Its use at present is negligible, it is estimated that Pakistan can produce about 19,000 MW through wind, a new source recently developed to produce energy in coastal areas of Sindh & Balochistan.

Nuclear energy is the cheapest source but it is still in a state of neglect in Pakistan. Efforts are on to set up second nuclear energy plant Chashma II 0f 500 MW capacity in Karachi with Chinese help which had built Chashma I about 25 years back. Currently oil and gas are two of the major components of Pakistan's energy mix contributing more than 84% to the total fuel share, while hydro electricity represents 20%, coal 4.8% and nuclear energy 1.25 in the total energy production. Pakistan depends mainly on imported oil.

The growing water shortage and subsequent extreme decline in the production of hydel electricity has created an alarming situation in Pakistan threatening its future economic growth. We have reached this stage because of the negligence of successive governments during the last 3 decades, which failed to construct new dams and water reservoirs in the country. Adequate energy at an affordable cost is a must to sustain the economic growth. Thermal power produced through furnace oil is an immediate remedy but its production cost is high.

On the other hand Pakistan is on the threshold of acute water shortage according to the World Bank report "Pakistan water economy is running dry". Per capita availability of surface water has been gradually dwindling and has come down from 5400 cubic meters in 1951 to only 1000 cubic meters by 2005. This is bound to hit Pakistan's agriculture badly, which is the backbone of country's economy. With utilization of only half of hydro potential through construction of mega dams and water reservoirs, we can ensure adequate water supply to our agriculture for the next 50 years. The authorities should focus on plans to provide electricity at the affordable cost. It is not possible only through thermal power generation. It should concentrate on hydel power, coal fired power station, increasing nuclear power and using alternative sources of energy.

At an international coal conference held in Islamabad last year 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.

Addressing a meeting of highly agitated representatives of trade industry, Shaukat Tarin, Advisor on Finance, in Karachi told that the Government will unveil an integrated energy policy shortly to overcome the present crises. This will take time to overcome the crises fully but situation would certainly improve in the next few months. Let us wait for the new policy and how the present Government plans to improve the situation which is getting from bad to worst with every passing day.