ISLAMABAD: Nervously finding itself in the shoes of last PPP government, the PML-N government is considering hiring mobile power plants (MPPs) besides reviving some rental power plants (RPPs) it condemned almost six years ago.
On top of that, the government is also earnestly striving to utilise the idle capacity of some of the independent power plants (IPPs) closed down due to various disputes and instruct the industrial sector to make available their captive power plants (CPPs).
The plans will help the government to bridge gap between power demand and supply in the summer as it tries to build popular support in the run-up to general election next year.
Govt also considers other options to make summer bearable as election nears
MPPs are small-to-medium, trailer-mounted compact plants having production capacity of 20 to 50 megawatts. They are readily available with a selective few suppliers, particularly US-based General Electric, and can be deployed within 15 minutes after reaching the site. Including shipping time, the plants get up and running in less than six weeks.
The decision to go for “emergency steps” was taken at a recent high-level meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Energy to tap in additional generation capacity from wherever possible. The decision came after the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif bitterly questioned “desk reports” of the Ministry of Water and Power and its subordinate agencies such as National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) and distribution companies regarding energy gaps and power outage period.
As the chief minister proposed all the above modes of power generation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recalled that perhaps he had been misled by the power ministry over the past couple of years with unrealistic forecasts and ordered to evaluate proposals on MPPs, RPPs, CPPs and IPPs.
The prime minister ordered the power ministry to “evaluate proposal regarding induction of mobile power generating units on a short-term basis for meeting power shortfall in summer of 2017 and immediately study options on the utilisation of idle capacity of IPPs as well as captive power plants to bridge the demand and supply gap.” He was also unhappy with the progress on transmission line projects, according to minutes of the meeting.
The power ministry briefed the meeting on the load management position and reported that loadshedding for six hours in urban areas, eight to 12 hours in rural areas, four hours in mixed industrial areas and no loadshedding for independent industrial load areas was being carried out by all distribution companies, except Tribal Electric Supply Company which observes 18 hours of loadshedding in urban and rural areas.
The Punjab chief minister contested these figures of loadshedding. “In urban areas of Punjab, 10 to 12 hours of loadshedding was actually being done,” he informed the meeting.
The prime minister observed that “it was clearly committed by the ministry that three hours of loadshedding for urban areas and four hours of loadshedding in rural areas would be observed in the country during summer of 2017.”
However, this plan was not being followed at all, he declared. “In fact, the duration of loadshedding being reported is more than double the approved plan. No cogent reasons are being forwarded by the ministry for this lapse”.
The prime minister also observed that rise in temperature by two to three degrees Celsius should not have resulted in such a big increase in load-shedding. “Moreover, less availability of water during these months was never highlighted in earlier presentations.”
The Punjab chief minister further stated that there was a huge gap between demand and supply of power. The ongoing power projects in the country would take some time for their commercial operation date. Therefore, there was a dire need to take emergency steps in this regard.
The minister proposed all available options should be utilised, such as setting up MPPs, restoring idle power projects and encouraging the industrial sector to operationalise their available captive power capacity to mitigate power shortages in the country.
He said the option of MPPs should be explored only for a year as the current shortfall in power generation would considerably be reduced by the end this year after the completion of ongoing power projects.
The prime minister directed the Ministry of Water and Power to explore the option of MPPs on a short-term basis and utilise captive power plants. The Punjab chief minister suggested that generating power through solar system should also be examined as such projects can be made operational in six to eight months.
Fawad Hassan Fawad, secretary to the prime minister, complained that the Chinese authorities have raised their concern in the meeting of joint coordination committee (JCC) over the non-issuance of letter of intent by the Pakistani side to set up a 300MW power plant in Gwadar. It was agreed in the JCC meeting the requisite letter would be issued by the Private Power and Infrastructure Board after legal formalities were fulfilled. However, it has not yet been issued.
He added that power plant and transmission line for evacuating electricity from Gwadar plant should have been completed by the end of December 2019 to reap its economic benefits. However, conditional letter by the NTDC has indicated December 2020 as the date of commercial operation for the transmission line.
The NTDC’s managing director has said that the 700-kilometre long transmission line was required to be built in the areas of difficult terrain where security issues also exist. Moreover, at least four years were required to build the line.
Concurring with Mr Fawad, the prime minister said that both power plant and transmission lines should have been completed simultaneously to generate economic activity in the backward areas of Balochistan. He directed the NTDC chief to complete the transmission lines within the shortest possible time.
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2017