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Award of solar park contract to Chinese firm challenged

Updated November 15, 2014

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— Reuters/File
— Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: A PPP member of the Punjab Assembly filed in the Supreme Court on Friday a petition challenging a contract awarded to a Chinese firm for developing a solar park to produce 900MW of electricity.

MPA Khurram Jehangir Wattoo has requested the court to order cancellation of a letter of interest issued to the Chinese Zoenergy company for funding the Quaid-i-Azam solar park project in Cholistan near Yazman, about 30km from Bahawalpur. The project will cover over 5,000 acres of land.

The petitioner also wants the court to hold the people concerned, including Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, accountable for alleged lack of transparency.

According to Mr Wattoo, the project is being developed after bypassing Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules which do not allow any public procurement without competitive bidding. He claimed that after completion of the project, roads, canal water, security paraphernalia, land and allied infrastructure would be run entirely on taxpayers’ money.

The petitioner cited the March 2012 Supreme Court judgment which scrapped the rental power project, although unsolicited licences had been issued to only two firms to install power plants.

He said that in the Gaddani power park project the Balochistan government and a federal ministry were involved in inviting investment proposals, but in the case of Quaid-i-Azam solar park the Punjab government was doing the job on its own.

The petitioner said that in 2008 the Private Power Infrastructure Board (PPIB) had asked the Economic Coordination Comm­ittee of the cabinet to allow induction of rental power of 1,200MW on a fast-track basis by skirting away normal procedures because of the power crisis. But the ECC turned down the request and asked the PPIB to go for international competitive bidding.

Mr Wattoo asked how the Punjab government could decide to induct 900MW in one go when the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority had anno­unced a solar tariff for up to 50MW plants.

He said the matters involving the national grid were determined by federal bodies like the PPIB and Alternative Electricity Development Board, and not by the federating units. But in the instant matter, the Punjab government did not bother to involve the federal bodies which could create problems for the federation in future.

Referring to technical issues, the petitioner said nowhere in the world a solar power plant of 900MW had been set up. Even the United States has only 250MW plant and it is facing huge technical problems because of fluctuating frequency of solar generation and its integration with the national grid.

The petitioner said Pakistan was yet to integrate even one solar megawatt with the national grid whereas Punjab had gone for 900MW in one go.

He recalled that the Punjab government had floated tenders for the first 100MW plant in the same park early this year in which Zoenergy’s parent company ZTE also participated. The ZTE’s bid was rejected by the management of the Quaid-i-Azam solar park on the ground that it was a telecom company which had nothing to do with solar energy. But ironically, a subsidiary of the same telecom company had been awarded the 900MW solar park project, despite the fact that the parent company was not even considered technically eligible for the earlier 100MW project.

Published in Dawn, November 15th , 2014