ISLAMABAD: Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif told the National Assembly on Wednesday that scheduled maintenance at a number of power plants had deprived the national grid of 2,200 megawatts, resulting in up to 12 hours of loadshedding in many parts of the country.
Responding to a calling attention notice, he blamed rising temperatures in April for an “unexpected” 2,700MW surge in demand, leading to a “shortfall of nearly 5,000MW”.
The otherwise pugnacious minister adopted a very apologetic tone before the house, admitting that plants which were shut down for maintenance should have come online in March — ahead of the summer months.
He said the plants that were currently closed for maintenance would all be online by the end of April or early May. “A new plant is being inaugurated in Bhikki today and [over 700MW] will flow into the system without interruptions. Aside from this, new electricity will be added to the system and we will regain control of this crisis,” he said.
Once that happened, Mr Asif claimed that the original schedule for loadshedding would be resumed and no forced or unscheduled outages would occur.
Minister admits power plants closed for maintenance should have come online in April
Taking responsibility for the situation, the minister said: “I’m saying that plants were closed for maintenance, it is our fault that we did not do this earlier and they should have been online in April.”
He told the house that 6,400MW from new projects would be added to the national grid before the end of the year. Peak shortfall stood at 5,200MW, so it was expected that the difference would be squared off by December.
In response to a question from PPP’s Shazia Sobia, the minister explained that they had never claimed loadshedding would be eliminated by 2017, but rather had committed to rooting it out by 2018.
“In addition to the 6,400MW coming online this year, 2,500-3,000MW will be available next year... Neelum Jhelum and Tarbela-4 in February 2018... Nandipur will start producing 525MW in May, three LNG [plants] in Bhikki, Haveli Bahadur Shah and Balloki will yield 3,600MW, [two] Sahiwal coal plants will produce 600MW, wind power will yield 400MW and solar energy will give us 435MW. Chashma-4 will be online by next month and yield 315MW,” he said, providing an overview of power projects in the pipeline.
Despite assuring members at the outset that he would be available to answer all queries in the house — an offer the deputy speaker took him up on and allowed members to keep directing queries at Mr Asif — the minister left the session before everyone could have their say.
This did not go down well with the opposition, which was already fuming over a disastrous Question Hour where nearly all the relevant officials seemed unprepared to answer the queries of their colleagues.
In some cases, questions were left unanswered or transferred to other divisions — a fact that incensed the deputy speaker — despite being clearly within the domain of the concerned ministry.
Members also protested when the answers to certain questions did not address what had been asked. Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz and Parliamentary Secretary for States and Frontier Regions Shaheen Shafiq bore the brunt of the criticism and also came under some ‘friendly fire’.
When Sartaj Aziz failed to satisfy Sheikh Rohail Asghar on a particular question, the PML-N MNA from Lahore wryly observed, “He’s not the minister, merely an adviser, and look at his attitude.”
The house also witnessed a walkout by the PPP over the lingering issue of missing aides of former president Asif Ali Zardari. In yet another charged speech, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah threatened to hold the government responsible if any harm came to the “disappeared” men.
“We will lodge an FIR against the government,” he warned, adding that all missing individuals, be they from PPP or MQM or any other party, should be produced before a court of law — in keeping with the spirit of the 22nd amendment — and charged if they had committed a crime.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2017