ISLAMABAD: With less than two years to go before next general elections, the PML-N government is already having sleepless nights. The reason, according to officials in the know, is the challenge to fulfil its promise of ending electricity loadshedding by May 2018.

Having promised to add at least 10,000 megawatts to the national grid during its five-year stint, the ruling party is finding the target thorny. Besides faulty planning, some unforeseen happenings have also proved undoing for the government.

The issue came under discussion during a meeting on energy presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and attended by senior federal ministers and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday.

Although a press release issued after the meeting quoted the prime minister as saying, “we will end loadshedding by the end of our tenure”, titbit of information on the huddle shared with Dawn suggested visible signs of anxiety gripping the participants. The meeting reviewed the progress on the ongoing and future energy projects in terms of the benchmarks.

“The risk is too high if the government fails to generate required amount of megawatts and control loadshedding before PML-N leaders hit the road for the 2018 general elections campaign,” admitted a PML-N legislator privy to the government’s nervousness caused by the severity of the task.

Therefore, he said, during the meeting the Sharif brothers again directed the relevant ministers and officials to take whatever measures they required to speed up completion of power projects.

But, he said, in terms of the deadline to complete electricity generation projects, the government was running against time.

Due to a recent accident at the site of Tarbela-IV extension project, which caused death of three Chinese engineers, the deadline for completion of the 1,410MW project has been extended to March 2018 from August 2017. Although, independents observers doubt that the PML-N government will be able to use 1,410MW before it heads for next general elections, the ministry of water and power believes that the project will be completed within the government tenure. “Remember, in May 2018 we will be out of government,” said the PML-N lawmaker.

The government is facing a similar tight deadline to produce 3,600MW from three liquefied natural gas-based projects in Punjab. “Completion of the power plants and making them fully operational by May 2018 is a gigantic task. Let’s see how they go,” an official of the ministry said.

The government is banking on 1,410MW from Tarbela and 3,600MW from the LNG-based projects to end the shortfall.

The official said if required procedures were not completed in case of the plants, they would meet the same fate which the Nandipur power project had faced. The Nandipur project was prematurely made operational in May 2014 and, hence, it immediately collapsed. Only last week, the National Transmission Distribution Company revealed that instead of promised 425MW, it was generating only 230MW causing huge losses to the national kitty.

Of three coal-based power plants, the government is hoping to complete only one -- 1,350MW Sahiwal power plant -- before May 2018 under the umbrella of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). With the financial closure of the fabled Neelum Jhelum hydro power project, the government is eyeing to add 969MW by mid-2017.

A senior official of the ministry of water and power said the government was well aware of the challenge, and with as furious an opposition leader as Imran Khan, “we have no other option but to deliver.” But he admitted that the building of a power project was unlike a regular infrastructure development and, hence, delays were regular a feature.

Still, in the press statement, the prime minister expressed satisfaction over the pace of work on the energy projects and said the government was effectively diversifying the energy mix to overcome the shortfall.

He said it was encouraging that all ongoing energy projects were being executed cost-effectively.

The prime minister laid emphasis on the progress of energy projects under the CPEC and called for reviewing the pace of work on the projects on regular basis. He said utmost transparency must be ensured while executing energy projects.

“Our aim is to reduce the energy shortfall that has been affecting domestic and industrial consumers for several years. We are committed to provide sufficient and affordable electricity to consumers to enable them to contribute to socio-economic development of the country,” Mr Sharif said.

The meeting was attended by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif, Minister for Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Secretary of Water and Power Mohammad Younas Dagha.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2016



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