INTERVIEW WITH ABBAS BILGRAMI, MEMBER ENERGY EXPERT GROUP & MD PROGAS ENERGY LTD.

KHALIL AHMED
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Dec 12 - 18, 20
11

PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

ABBAS BILGRAMI: I was born in Karachi but have travelled and lived all over Pakistan and the world. My primary education was in the UK and Pakistan, while secondary and higher educations in Pakistan, the UK, and Canada. I have worked in energy sector for over 25 years primarily in upstream and midstream with a specialization in energy infrastructure. My focus has been on the energy sector. I have also been involved in publishing and in the agricultural sector. I have a particular interest in renewable energy and in high value horticulture.

PAGE: IT IS SAID THE PREVAILING ENERGY CRISIS HAS LEFT AROUND 25,000 INDUSTRIAL UNITS SICK AND MORE THAN 400,000 PEOPLE UNEMPLOYED. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS?

ABBAS BILGRAMI: The shortage of gas and electricity has had a serious impact on the industrial and commercial sector. The levels of unemployment are significantly higher. The level of unemployment measured last winter in Faisalabad due to gas outages was running at 400,000 people in the textile and related sector. In Lahore, there was an additional 250,000 people, who were laid off during the gas outages. The overall impact on the GDP has been devastating and it is our view that the social impact of unemployment cannot be quantified. This level of disruption and impoverishment is what can provide fertile ground for extremists and terrorists. The estimated loss to the economy runs into tens of billions of dollars. The knock-on effect to employment and revenue collection further aggravates the problem.

PAGE: CHINA INTERNATIONAL WATER AND ELECTRIC CORPORATION (CWE) HAS SIGNED A WIND ENERGY GENERATION AGREEMENT WITH THE GOVERNMENT. IT ALSO INTENDS TO SET UP WIND TURBINE MANUFACTURING PLANT IN PAKISTAN. WHAT ARE YOUR COMMENTS?

ABBAS BILGRAMI: This is an excellent move. Pakistan is several years behind its contemporaries in the development of an industrial infrastructure to fabricate turbines, photovoltaic cells and the capability to build what is the next generation of power generation projects. Pakistan should use existing resources such as the heavy mechanical complex, shipyard and dockyards as the basis for developing the industrial base for building turbines, gearbox, masts etc. Additionally, Pakistan should look to jumping a generation of photovoltaic cell manufacturing. It should look to produce LED lights rather than investing in compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) manufacturing. We should look to the development of a tax and investment infrastructure to encourage this industry to take off in line with the telecommunication policy.

PAGE: WHAT ARE YOUR COMMENTS ON ALTERNATIVE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT BOARD (AEDB)?

ABBAS BILGRAMI: The AEDB has to be empowered to be able to implement Pakistan's alternate energy agenda. However, it has been stymied by the fact that it has become an adjunct to the water and power ministry. Pakistan's energy agenda cannot be properly implemented until and unless there is an energy ministry. At present, the ownership of the national energy sector is split between the ministry of petroleum, water and power, planning and finance. For a country like Pakistan, it is a matter of national urgency to have an energy ministry, which should encompass all the hydrocarbons, power, alternate and renewable sources, their planning and implementation of policy structures. Merely blaming the AEDB without providing it the resources is not productive. Finally, the government of Pakistan should set up an energy fund. This fund should provide seed money to both conventional and alternate energy resources. This fund should be raised by a proportion of all tax receipts and through the privatization of national assets.

PAGE: CAN THAR COAL AS AN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE SOLVE THE ENERGY PROBLEMS OF THE INDUSTRIAL SECTOR?

ABBAS BILGRAMI: Thar coal is a part of Pakistan's energy solution. It is by no means the only solution. Pakistan has a whole range of energy resources, which it has not fully exploited. It is also located in a region where there is a plentiful supply of hydrocarbons and other energy resources. It should balance its internal and external supplies of energy so as to nurture and harbor its own resources for future generations as well. Thar coal requires immense investment in communication, water infrastructure and in mining. We also need to realize that this will have serious environmental implications.

PAGE: GIVE YOUR VIEWS ON INVESTMENTS IN ALTERNATE ENERGY PROJECTS IN PAKISTAN.

ABBAS BILGRAMI: Pakistan has a huge potential for solar, wind, bio-fuels, geothermal and hydel. However, a large resource that we consistently forget is the availability of huge quantities of energy from conservation and energy programs. Pakistan has the potential to save up to 20 per cent of its existing energy consumption if proper pricing, policy framework could be legislated and implemented. This is the equivalent of all of Pakistan's energy imports over US$12 billion or approximately 14 million metric tons oil equivalent.

PAGE: WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON INDUSTRIES SUFFERING FROM ENERGY CRISIS?

ABBAS BILGRAMI: Part of the problem is the energy mismanagement in the industrial sector. It needs to become more efficient and it needs to conserve energy. At present because of warped energy pricing structures, everyone in the country is running after acquiring allocations of natural gas, as it is the cheapest energy resource. This has lead to corruption, huge unaccounted for gas losses and the promotion of a licensing culture, which has created problems for the free flow of energy into the country. It has also meant that investment that is needed in the energy sector has been turned away by the shambles our entire energy sector is in. Industry can act as the catalyst to turn the sector around if it starts with a program to cut its electricity and gas consumption through the implementation of energy efficiency and energy conservation programs. Our energy sector is inefficient, underinvested, and controlled by monopolies with no alternatives available to the consumers. The consumers also need a reality check in that unless they pay for energy they can't expect to get it for free. I am however optimistic that the energy sector problems can be resolved very quickly given the support of all stakeholders and the development of a new social contract. This should alleviate the problems of the industrial sector. We need an energy ministry, which follows an integrated energy model and is depoliticized, and run through a private public partnership.