Experts point out shortcomings in managing energy crisis

ISLAMABAD: Energy experts in a seminar organized by Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, analysing the one-year progress of the present government vis-à-vis Pakistan’s energy issues, have raised an alarm on, what they claimed, the short-sightedness, unprofessional approach, lack of integrated planning, total disconnect with technicalities and mere sloganeering of the political leadership responsible to handle the country’s power sector. 
The seminar titled ‘Pakistan’s Power Sector: Tracking the Progress of One Year’ was chaired by Mirza Hamid Hasan, former federal secretary and member, IPS-National Academic Council, while the keynote speech was made by Ashfaq Mahmood, former federal secretary, water and power. A number of energy experts and researchers also participated in the seminar. 
Asfhaq Mahmood called for macro-planning of the country’s power sector with an integrated approach to mitigate the perpetual energy crisis and secure a better future for the sector. He was of the view that the present government was living by slogans, as far as the energy issues are concerned, lacking vision, planning or concrete measures to deal with them. The projects being announced were politically motivated, lacking transparency and bypassing necessary technical studies, creating difficulties for experts and professionals in the concerned ministries and departments, he claimed. 
He criticized the government’s lack of aggressiveness to build major dams and depending completely on the World Bank and other foreign funding for the critical projects like Dasu and Diamer-Basha. He was of the view that if Kalabagh dam had been built the US dollar could have never had gone above the value of Rs25-30. He hinted that the government’s inactions in this regard will lead to further deterioration of hydro-thermal mix in the coming years.
He said that the government’s attempt to switch to coal from furnace oil as cheaper fuel for thermal power generation was faced with severe hurdles as only a few public sector plants were making progress in this regard and IPPs were not going for it due to tariff issues and plant shut down losses. 
He further said that without any impact assessments and necessary technical studies several coal-fired plants of 6600MW have been announced, including 10 in Gadani, Balochistan. There was no mentioning of any PC1 for transmission/distribution project for all those projects, he pointed out. He disclosed that the effect of the much boasted Neelum-Jhelum project also was limited to within 40km as there was no transmission line ahead to distribute the electricity being generated. Though the power plants at Gadani have significant potential to ease the present energy crisis, the government was yet to establish any proper mechanism for its power transmission, he added. 
He lamented that despite being a coal-rich country possessing one of the world’s largest reserves of coal in its Tharparkar district, Pakistan cannot use its coal for power generation with the technology, which will be used for the announced coal-fired projects. This will increase the country’s dependence on imported coal. There was little action, too, so far on the Engro-Sindh government’s project on Thar coal. 
He also pointed out that due to inefficient governance, the issue of circular debt was again cropping up and within a year of the clearance of Rs480bn circular debt there were reports that it has piled up again to the tune of around Rs400bn.
He said that the federal government’s tussle with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh on energy issues was also taking its toll and was further obstructing the sector’s growth. 
The expert also slated the government’s failure to check line losses and thefts, ever-increasing power tariff, and load shedding despite huge claims and political statements and called for strict implementation of laws on power theft to tackle the ongoing energy crisis.
Mirza Hamid Hasan, in his concluding remarks, endorsed the analysis stating that the government’s power policy looked like a wish list without any concrete course for action. He advised the authorities to devise realistic policies, develop an institutional framework and then build the capacity of its institutions for the practical implementation of those policies. 

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