May 24 - 30, 20

Alan Greenspan, the ex-US Fed chairman and central banker has stated in his book The Age of Turbulence:

"Long-term shortages of gas and oil have inevitably stimulated renewed interest in the expansion of coal, nuclear power and renewable energy sources, the most prominent of which are hydroelectric power from dams and the energy generated through the recycling of waste and by-products from industry and agriculture. Solar and wind power have proved economical in small-scale and specialised uses, but together account for only a tiny fraction of energy use.

The United States has large reserves of coal, primarily dedicated to electric power generation. But the burning of coals in power plants has been restrained by concerns about global warming and other environmental damage. Technology has already alleviated some of these concerns, and given the limited range of alternatives, coal is likely to remain a major fall-back in the energy future of the United States."

United States being the largest oil-consumer and a highly developed economy has far more environmental concerns than small and under-developed economy has.

Pakistan's huge coal reserves and industrial world's state-of-the-art technology can combine together to provide us a long-lasting energy solution. The hydropower capacity of 40-50 thousand megawatts, when put to practical use can free the nation from the destabilising energy concerns for a number of decades. But, do we really want to free the nation from energy concerns? Dr Hafeez Sheikh said: "Electricity shortages can be overcome provided we are allowed to solve the problem."

It is not the present government - or for that matter any other government - that stands in the way of Dr Hafeez, rather it is decades-old feudal governance system in Pakistan that has no room for projects of social importance or national uplift programs. These feudal lords in league with the extremist religious groups indulged in trans-boundary military incursions during the earlier decades thereby keeping the economic development programs on a permanent hold. When these incursions were beaten back to national boundaries, we were left to fight the self-created monster of terrorism for an unknown period of time. Terrorism, inflation and energy are the tools in the hands of feudal ruling elites to keep the masses on short leash. The prospects of economic revival through increased agricultural productivity and energy sector development, despite immense potential, are quite dim, to make an understatement.

We all know that political gaming and cartelised forces of energy sector have always stood in the way of dam building and use of coal for power generation. This hurdle can only be overcome by a true leadership, not by the commission-based feudal governance. Now, what is true leadership?

Pakistan's history takes pride in a number of selfless and God-fearing leaders who revolutionised the lives of people. US writer John Perkins writes about the Panama's ex-president and hero Omar Torrijos:

"Torrijos was highly regarded by the Panamanian middle and lower classes. He himself had grown up in the rural city of Santiago where his parents taught school. He had risen quickly through the ranks of National Guards, Panama's primary military unit and an institution that during the 1960s gained increasing support among the poor. Torrijos earned a reputation for listening to the dispossessed. He walked the streets of their shantytowns, held meetings in slums politicians didn't dare to enter, helped the unemployed find jobs, and often donated his own limited financial resources to families stricken by illness or tragedy.

Now, it seemed one man was standing in Washington's way. I knew that he was not the first leaders like Castro and Allende had gone before him but Torrijos alone was doing it outside the realm of Communist ideology and without claiming that his movement was a revolution."

The energy sector cartelised forces in league with the feudal interests have raised such phony issues as circular debt which is simply a smoke screen created to camouflage the real issues. The debt cycle can easily be broken by identifying and making the ultimate defaulter to clear its dues. The circular debt has a size of $1.3 billion and the government is reported to have recently committed to inject Rs.116 billion to break this unholy cycle of circular debt. The amount committed and the actual size of debt is almost the same. So, was it the government that primarily blocked payments?

Anyway, the problem should now get resolved, but there is every possibility that the issue will resurface under a different garb. The use of oil for power generation is the real bone of contention. The GENCOs avoid use of oil for cost effectiveness reasons, while the cartelised oil sector tries to block moves to shift to alternative power generation. The GENCOs are thus forced to use oil they cannot promptly pay for. This evil nexus of cartelised forces and unscrupulous government functionaries must now be broken.

The oil-based power generation, after dropping to 20 per cent level in 2006, has again started picking up. This is a disturbing development as we can not afford high oil-based generation in the face of volatile oil prices. The coal-based generation has dropped during the last four years to an almost zero level. This is mockery of resource utilisation.

Pakistan has ample coal reserves that need to be mined and utilised for power generation. The sooner we replace the oil-based generation with the coal-based generation the better. Hydro power is yet another potential source of energy supply. The country which is endowed with sufficient water resources is seen struggling on water management front. Flood situations during monsoon and the recent Hunza water debacle are the examples of poor water resource management. With the reallocation of thermal and hydropower generation responsibilities, WAPDA should now be in a position to focus on augmenting hydro power generation capacity on one hand and reduce to a minimum the wild fluctuation in generation during different seasons on the other.

In sum, the energy issue remains a feudal ploy designed to keep the nation under energy stress. Rental power plants are the trappings of this ploy that ensures diversion of public interest from long-term solution of energy problem which is simply the reliance on indigenous resources - coal and water.