ISLAMABAD: With the general election beginning to weigh heavily on the minds of all the parties, including the ruling party, the duration of loadshedding across the country has surged to between six and eight hours amid increasing payables owed to fuel suppliers and power producers as many power plants sit idle.

According to official data, the power generation companies and private producers are cumulatively producing about 11,000MW of electricity but supplying less than 9,700MW to distribution companies against a countrywide demand of about 14,800MW. Thus the shortfall, excluding Karachi, fluctuates between 4,000MW and 4,500MW, said the official data.

Private sector experts, however, put the total demand in excess of 17,500MW, including around 2,600 for the K-Electric.

The experts said the power sector authorities were allowing loadshedding of four to six hours in cities but in towns and rural areas people were having to contend with outages of up to 15 hours.

In rural areas, people enduring outages of up to 15 hours

This is happening at a time when more than 880,000 tonnes of furnace oil, sufficient to run the country’s entire power generation machinery for 40 days, was currently lying idle in the storage tanks of oil companies, particularly the Pakistan State Oil (PSO). Also, more than a dozen power plants were sitting idle and claiming capacity charges because they were not contributing electricity to the system due to non-payment and related disputes.

Included in the idle plants are the ones that are most efficient and cheap, such as the natural gas-based units of Uch Power and Halmore.

The controversial Nandipur power project has remained closed for almost four months while the Guddu power plant was producing about 350MW on Tuesday against its total capacity of about 2,200MW. It was producing about 900MW on Wednesday.

Ironically, about 1,900MW of electricity remains almost unaccounted for. This is evident from the fact that the power ministry had allocated about 9,700MW to distribution companies on March 28 but the Discos could draw only 9,200MW according to this approved quota.

Official data suggests that about 780MW was going to waste due to transmission and transformation losses, accounting for about seven per cent of the total.

Another 1,120MW of electricity is misused, officially described as “unaccounted for... due to non-metering and communication failures”.

Retired Col Sajjad Rana, spokesman for the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NDTC), which procures electricity and transmits it to distribution network, said his organisation was no longer authorised to discuss demand and supply situation with the media, adding that the matter was being dealt directly by the water and power ministry.

Repeated requests to explain the situation sent to water and power secretary Younas Dagha and joint secretaries Zargham Eshaq and Zafar Abbas also remained unanswered.

An information officer, however, shared a datasheet showing peak generation on Wednesday at 12,442MW but the document said nothing about the duration of loadshedding or shortfall. The distribution of demand and supply data to all stakeholders has largely been stopped.

However, an official requesting anonymity said the distribution companies had been conveyed verbally to ‘manage’ shortfall in politically sensitive cities by ‘parking’ shortfall in the rural areas. Therefore, the country’s most efficient distribution company based in Islamabad announced loadshedding of four hours for urban areas and six hours for rural areas.

Other companies were going for longer power outages. For instance, an official said that duration of loadshedding in most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and interior of Sindh ranged between 16 and 18 hours.

Meanwhile, except for the Hubco and Kapco plants, which are provided fuel by PSO against direct government payments, none of the IPPs were running at full capacity because they are in dispute with government over non-payments and seldom get fuel on credit.

For example, power plants of AES, Nishat, Atlas were running at half their capacity while Japan, Sepcol and Kohinoor were permanently closed.

Despite the best government efforts, the total generation from all the IPPs that stood at 7,200MW on Tuesday was increased to 7,800MW against their available capacity of about 9,500MW. Likewise, the generation from all hydropower resources that had plunged to 1,400MW against a capacity of almost 7,000MW was increased during peak hours on Wednesday to 1,950MW.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2017