ISLAMABAD: The country suffered the second major power breakdown in a week on Thursday afternoon, leaving many cities, towns and villages in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir without electricity for hours.

The Ministry of Water and Power said that a transformer of 450MW caught fire at Guddu at 3.14pm, causing tripping in the national transmission system. However, 90 per cent of the power system was restored by 6.38pm.

Sources said the 500kv Guddu transmission line tripped because of a wide gap between demand and supply in the first place which led to a transformer of the National Transmission and Dispatch Company near Kandhkot catching fire. This was followed by closure of all hydropower stations — Mangla, Tarbela and Ghazi Barotha — the independent power plants (IPPs) and then public sector thermal power stations.

Hydropower stations are producing around 1,000MW against their installed capacity of over 6,500MW because of the annual canal closure that will continue till Jan 31. Some thermal power plants are on a fuel-saving mode.

Major cities like Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan and Faisalabad were out of the national grid immediately. The electricity supply to the parliament house in Islamabad and other key offices was also disrupted for a few moments and the National Assembly speaker ordered an inquiry.

Water and Power Minister Khwaja Asif told the house that the breakdown was caused by 500kv transmission line fire, which affected Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The sources said power breakdowns in winter months took place every year because of pressure on transmission lines linking northern and southern parts of the country as authorities try to fully utilise a few gas-based plants in the south amid some yet-to-be completed critical transmission lines.

For example, they said, the government had inaugurated the Uch Power Plant II early last year even though a 125-km transmission line required for its full evacuation was not in place.

For a few months now, the government has stopped releasing the daily demand and supply situation of electricity while the NTDC also has discontinued giving updates on its website.

The NTDC board of directors has not taken any remedial measures after last Friday’s countrywide breakdown and the ministry had shown complete silence towards this inaction.

The power ministry’s spokesman Zafaryab Khan said the problem at Guddu transformer led to tripping of generation facilities in the northern region, but the entire system turned into “south and north islands” because of protective system introduced last year on the intervention of the ministry.

He said the southern part survived completely and was helpful in reviving the northern part rather quickly. The entire system was restored by 7:00pm.

Asked if any probe had been ordered to find out the ‘real reasons’ behind the two breakdowns within a week, he declined to comment.

Last year, the entire country had plunged into darkness three times during the winter and the government had claimed to have taken critical remedial measures to avoid a recurrence. An explanation had been sought by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat from the Power Ministry and NTDC.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2016

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