ISLAMABAD: Pakistan opened its first private hydroelectric power plant on Monday, moving to tackle a deepening energy crisis that has devastated its already struggling economy.
The new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif won an election in May partly on promises to fix persistent power cuts lasting some 12 hours in parts of the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.
On Monday, Sharif travelled to Pakistan-administered Kashmir to oversee the launch of a new project he says will offer a significant boost to the ailing power sector.
“I hope that because of this and other initiatives, there will be a substantial decrease in power cuts in the coming days,” Sharif said in televised remarks.
He said the project was a milestone in the country's history and would pave way for construction of similar projects to cater to the power needs of various sectors of economy.
The project will not only substantially improve power supply but also open new vistas of development, he added.
Built near an existing river dam and developed by a local private company, the 84 megawatt New Bong Escape Hydropower Project is expected to produce electricity at a much lower cost than thermal generated power.
It is also part of a broader plan to overhaul the moribund power sector by handing over parts of it to private hands.
The plant's cost of construction was not clear and the company in charge of the project was not responding to phone calls. However, the state run news agency APP reported that the project, completed at a cost of $ 215 million in 40 months, will produce 84 megawatts of electricity, which will be added to the national grid through a 132 kv transmission line.
The project built with the assistance of Asian Development Bank and a number of other financial institutions, has been completed by Laraib Energy Limited on built, operate and transfer (BOT) basis.
Power cuts have worsened in Pakistan in recent years, becoming one of the main sources of public discontent in the South Asian country which generates about 8,000 MW of power - way below its total demand estimated at around 15,000 MW.
The deepening shortages have already sparked violent protests in the past and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, adding to Pakistan's long list of economic and security woes.
“We have to move from oil to coal, hydro and gas-based power generation to bring down costs,” said Miftah Ismail, who has co-authored the Sharif government's new energy policy.
Some, however, are sceptical the project can offer any quick fixes unless the government acts more decisively to tackle rampant electricity theft and pay off debt choking the sector.