In a considered, well thought through step, Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf deserves accolades for finally approving Thar coal to be used for power generation. This decision has ruled out importing coal for the purpose, as was being proposed by some elements in the planning commission. Not only would the idea have continued to burden our already strained foreign exchange reserves, the power projects designed on imported coal as fuel would have been rendered redundant whenever we decided to use indigenous coal from Thar, the latter being of lower quality. Our desire to move from thermal to hydel and now to coal is all based primarily on the rising oil import bill that eats up a large part of our foreign exchange reserves. Therefore the PM’s step toward what he calls our indigenous power generating ability is a timely call to solve the worst power crisis Pakistan is passing through with almost the entire business structure sinking under the weight of the huge demand and supply gap owing more to our mismanagement and financial constraints than the installed capacity to generate electricity. Though over the years we have envisioned a number of power projects, the latest being our desire to build hydel projects, some died in the hands of our home grown corruption and others due to donor fatigue setting in in the backdrop of the global financial crisis. The Thar project however carries lots of hope. It is interesting to note that even developed economies like the US and China produce 49 and 79 percent power respectively from coal, and even India is using coal at 69 percent for power production, while Pakistan has so far achieved only one percent in this field in spite of having three billion tons of coal reserves.
It has been decided to build a 1,200 megawatt power project on Block 2 in Thar in collaboration with the Engro Coal Mining Company, a joint venture of the Sindh government and Engro Power Corporation. The project will be completed with an estimated cost of $ 1.3 billion. No time frame has so far been given for the completion of the project but being a private-public partnership and the PM taking personal interest in it, it is hoped it will be completed in the stipulated time. Another project to be converted to coal is located in Jamshoro. Already 800 megawatts is being generated from this plant using thermal oil. A new plant in the same vicinity of 600 megawatts will be built on Thar coal specifications. It has been decided as a policy that Pakistan will concentrate on generating electricity from coal in future. Only recently Russia has extended its technical and financial support for the conversion and development of Jamshoro power project, in fact a memorandum of understanding has been signed in this respect. The Asian Development Bank has also earmarked money for the Jamshoro project and the PM has directed the concerned people to get on with the work urgently.
Our romance with Thar coal dates back to 1992 when we came to know about the mindboggling coal reserves we have that could provide us unlimited electricity for five hundred years at cheaper rates. Till today, barring Dr Samar Mubarkmand, who experimented with the Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) project that has not progressed an inch in four years even after having consumed millions, nothing substantial has been done about Thar coal. Now that the UCG project seems to have been called off, Thar coal as a fuel is seen as an option to address the serious energy crisis facing the country. However late, at least we have arrived at the right solution finally. *