Jan 26 - Feb 01, 2009

President Asif Ali Zardari has advised the Government to expedite the execution of Thar Coal Project by reviewing the progress more often and removing the bottlenecks that may come in the way. He said that Pakistan has been gifted with rich coal reserves-estimated to be over 185 billion tones and one of the highest in the world which could be used for production of electricity at a much cheaper cost and to overcome the power shortage that is unleashing long and dark hours of electricity load shedding and badly hurting industrial production.

The President expressed these views as he along with Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani jointly presided over a meeting at the Aiwan-e-Sadr to review the progress made in the Thar Coal project with a view to resolving the growing energy crises. The meeting was attended by Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Advisor to PM on Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain, Minister for Revenue Sindh Jam Saifullah Dharejo, MD Thar Coal and Energy Board Muhammad Aslam Sanjrani and Asad Ali Shah, the TCE Board and representative of the Sindh government. The meeting was informed that seven international finance companies and over 80 investors participating in a round table conference organized by the World Bank in Washington in July last year had showed great interest in the project.

The World Bank had also agreed to provide technical assistance for the project. The meeting was informed that 185 billion tons of coal spreading over the area of over 9000 square kilometers was most suitable for power generation and promised fuel availability for the coming generations. A World Bank team was already in Islamabad to meet relevant officials after meeting the Sindh government officials. The President said the PPP government had successfully fought load shedding in its last government with the IPP initiative and it was ready to adopt bold measures to once again resolve the lingering energy crises.

The meeting was informed that Sindh government has decided to establish a coal-based power generation plant in Thatta district to generate 405 megawatts electricity to overcome the growing energy crisis. The coal-based power plant will be set up near Sonda, some 40-km away from Thatta town.

The plant will produce 405 megawatts electricity in three years, official sources in the Mines and Minerals Department said. A Chinese company - CMC has been awarded the contract to complete the project at an estimated cost of $1 billion. In line with the project plan, the plant will generate 135MW from coal reserves every year.

A team comprising 12 engineers of a Chinese firm has begun work following the feasibility report of the project to undertake the development work. "The experts of the firm and staff of the Mines and Mineral Department have established their camp offices at the site and doing their job on an emergency basis so that work could be started as early as possible. The prevailing energy crisis will be over this year," they added. They believe that the Sonda area has coal reserves of more than 300 million tones. There are 173 gas fields in Pakistan, of them 140 are located in Sindh, 22 in Punjab, 7 in Balochistan and four in NWFP.

Earlier talking to a delegation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry which called on the Chief Minister Sindh to apprise him about the slowdown in the industrial sector and resultant unrest amongst the labor community due to power shortage Syed Qasim Ali Shah comforted the delegation that the Government was fully alive to the situation and was making concerted efforts to utilize Thar Coal reserves to produce electricity at an affordable cost. He told them that China and the World Bank are keen to invest in Thar coal project for energy generation and the business community be assured that the electricity crisis will end in a year.

He apprised the business community that the government has recently held a conference in Washington, attended by around 35 countries. This conference has raised hopes for investment in the energy sector, he added. He maintained that keeping in view the World Bank's interest in Thar coal, the government is likely to give the bank two of eight developed blocks. He said that there is Thar Energy Board headed by the CM himself offering one-window operation to investors. Now the investors will not run from pillar to post for getting their jobs done.

The board is backed by the federal and provincial governments. The previous Thar Coal Authority failed to play its due role and remained almost inactive, the CM observed. He gave them "good news" saying that the tussle between the Federal and Sindh Government over the Thar Coal Authority delaying the announcement of first ever national coal policy has been resolved with Federal Government conceding Sindh demand that it should control and supervise the affairs of the authority. The federal government took a big initiative last month to develop country's coal reserves specially the so far neglected vast reserves of coal in Thar deserts of Sindh for generation of electricity at a comparatively much cheaper cost.

Thar coal authority was setup by a notification of the federal government and was assigned to put up a national coal policy. The Cabinet Division notification mentioned that Sindh chief minister as acting chairman of the authority will propose the name of professional technocrat as the permanent chairman of the authority. The Vice Chairman of the Authority is the Federal Minister for Water and Power. The Deputy Chairman Planning Commission and Secretary Ministry Water and Power are the members. Powerful elements in Sindh Government were of the opinion that Sindh government is main stake holder in the Thar coal deposits and no policy can be made without its consultation and concurrence. The provincial government wanted complete control on coal reserves where as the federal government is of the view that Sindh government should monitor the reserves and power generation should be subject of federal government. It is rumored in the capital that last minute intervention of PPP Co-chairperson has prevailed through some give and take policy. Under new arrangement Thar Coal and board will be headed by Sindh Chief Minister.

The board will have its principal office in Karachi. The Board will have its Principal Seat office at Karachi. In the present world about 40 percent of energy needs including of developed countries like USA and Western Europe are met through coal which is the third cheapest source of electricity generation after nuclear and hydro sources. Though found in abundance in most parts of the world, the use of coal as an alternate source of energy in the developing countries has been downplayed by powerful lobbies who do not wish to see coal as a substitute of oil that is their principal sale. Resultantly the share of coal in the energy mix of any developing countries remains very low. In Pakistan, the share of coal in the energy mix is about 5 percent and in power generation even less than one percent despite the fact that Pakistan ranks among those countries which possess vast deposits of coal.

With total coal reserves at 185 billion tons, Pakistan is the sixth largest coal rich country in the world. The aggregate energy potential of Pakistan's coal reserves is more than the combined energy potential of the resources that Saudi Arabia and Iran possess. Pakistan's biggest coalfield lies in Thar (Sindh) where the coal reserves are estimated to be over 175,506 million tons. Seven other coal fields in Sindh have 8617 million tons of coal reserves. These include Lakhra, Sonda-Thatta, Jherruck. Oagar, Indus East, Meeting Jhimper and Badin with reserves of 1,328 million tons, 3,700 million tons. 1,323 million tons, 312 million tons, 1,777 million tons, 161 million tons and 16 million tons respectively. Other major fields in the country contain reserves of over 533 million tons. These include Khost-Sharig-Harnai, Sor-Range-Degari, Mach-Abagum, Duki and Pir Ismail Ziarat in Balochistan, Hangu in NWFP with reserves of 76 million tons, 34 million tons, 23 million tons, 12 tons, and 81 million tons respectively. The current estimated value of Thar coal deposits, according to Engineering Development Board's monthly magazine "Industrial Bulletin" is 55 trillion and if converted into energy its value comes to $25 trillion. It has the potential to generate 100,000 MW of electricity for 300 years. Pakistan can substantially curtail its oil import, create thousands of new jobs and in the process can also alleviate poverty to some extent if we opt for the commercial exploitation and industrial use of vast coal deposits. Let us hope that the latest resolve taken by the present government is really carried out. In the past many government made such announcements which never materialized because of powerful hidden lobbies.