THE start of the wind power project in the Jhimpir area of coastal Sindh is a welcome development. The Fauji Fertiliser Company has started a 50MW project, inaugurated by President Asif Ali Zardari on Christmas Eve in Karachi. This is the largest wind power project in Pakistan, and although the amount of electricity it would be able to generate sounds meagre in comparison to the shortfalls we have become accustomed to, the project is important mainly as a demonstration of the viability of wind power in the country. However, the project should be seen primarily as a ground-breaking event, rather than a solution to energy problems. With the 50MW of electricity that it will feed into the national grid, at a feed-in tariff of Rs12.61, the project represents the end of a long road down which we began to travel back in 2008.
It was back then that a Turkish firm by the name of Zorlu Energy had made the first move to invest in wind power in the Gharo-Keti Bunder corridor. The project suffered from many delays. There were snags and problems in the allocation of the land. There were problems in the wind data which was not considered bankable. There were difficulties in determining the wind tariff. All of these delayed implementation, even though a small 6MW wind turbine was installed. Zorlu was the pioneer in the field, and took the first steps down the road on which the FFC has travelled towards establishing the 50MW project. Inauguration of the FFC’s project, therefore, is a demonstration that these snags and difficulties have been successfully overcome. If the FFC can bank a $130m project, get a commercially viable tariff established for wind power, and acquire possession over the land for the project, then very few obstacles remain for others to follow suit.
There is little doubt that the government, in its characteristic jubilation, is overstating the power generation potential of the Gharo-Keti Bunder wind corridor. Nobody is willing to seriously believe that 50,000MW of electricity can be produced by the winds that blow through this corridor. But the potential for wind power generation is indeed substantial and needs to be tapped. The best way to tap this potential is to create an enabling environment for private investors; and this project may well have shown the way. Pakistan needs to urgently diversify its power-generation mix, and our growing dependence on furnace oil must be halted. The start of a wind power project in coastal Sindh offers us a ray of hope that progress on this important national priority is possible.