KARACHI: Should K-Electric (KE) consumers expect a loadshedding-free Karachi in the next two, five or 10 years? The simplest response could very well be ‘not any time soon’ but the chief executive officer of the power utility had an elaborate reply.
“Inshallah we see the next year to be better than this year and the year after that would be even better,” said Syed Moonis Abdullah Alvi, the KE CEO, while responding to a question by Dawn during a meeting with journalists from the publication.
A more detailed response entails looking deeper into the phenomenon called loadshedding/load management/power interruptions (all very different from one another, as a company rep explained) that has held the citizens of Karachi hostage.
But before we can get our hopes high, Mr Alvi quickly said: “Loadshedding ho ge” (loadshedding will continue). He went on to add: “If the high-loss areas are not improved, loadshedding will continue. If the demand-supply situation is normal, out of the 1,860 feeders, loadshedding will continue on 400.”
Complaints termed ‘noise’
Mr Alvi, a chartered accountant who has been with KE for well over a decade, shares peppy anecdotes when it comes to power outages in Karachi.
Moonis Alvi says by 2023 Karachi’s 90pc area will be loadshedding free
From the reaction of a flight full of MNAs including Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar who viewed Karachi from the top as the aircraft landed and commented “yeh to bara acha roshan hay”, to taking daily 11pm calls with his distribution team to discuss problem areas, he dismissed complaints as “noise” and said it’s more to do with “perception”.
“Asad Umar laughed and said I must have turned it on to show the city is roshan,” said Mr Alvi while recalling the flight story.
Sharing yet another anecdote, this time about a “very senior people group” on WhatsApp, he said a member wrote on the group that he didn’t have electricity since four hours. Some members replied that it didn’t go off even for a second, with one saying he is a satisfied customer. “I responded that 90 per cent people in this group are satisfied customers. We don’t expect them to write anything but it means they are satisfied.”
“We are getting complaints from 10 people out of the 250. Woh das log jo hay noise ho jati hay (those 10 people create noise),” he added.
The Facebook and Twitter accounts of KE are rife with complaints from consumers.
The company said there were 1,860 feeders in Karachi and some 500 feeders were off when it rained for three hours last month. “Some 250 feeders are switched off due to safety reasons to prevent harm in congested areas, kunda connections are there and there is a chance that the live wire will fall and lead to a tragic incident,” Mr Alvi said.
However, the company claimed that it was working on improving the situation. It has identified areas across the city and is providing meters, which cost Rs5,000, for Rs100.
90pc of city to be loadshedding free by 2023
“We tell people to come on net and not go for kunda. In areas like Orangi, Korangi, Nazimabad we have done this and turned them into low-loss areas. Next year, we plan to improve six more areas in the city. By 2023 we aim to go 90 per cent loadshedding free from the current 73pc,” said Mr Alvi.
“The investment should be two way. If we are giving people electricity and there are high losses due to thefts and we are still profitable, it means tariffs are not right. The tariffs are high,” he quips. To provide relief to high-loss areas, power supply to industry was shut off, even then the load was high. Between June 20 and August 6, loadshedding was not done by closing down a plant to save oil.
“We bear losses in areas where there is power theft but I was telling my people to let the relief continue,” he claimed.
When asked if KE would exempt these high-loss areas from power outages in this sweltering heat and humidity, particularly at night, on humanitarian grounds, the CEO said, “Power will be shut off when there is no power available. For instance, there is a load of 3,000 MW and supply at that hour is 2,700 MW, shedding will take place.
“We are doing what we shouldn’t be doing. This is a commercial entity. The people who pay 100 per cent bills and do not indulge in thefts, we end up suspending supply to them and diverting power to areas where power theft is rife — sometime up to 60pc,” he claimed.
“Plant generation is maximum but the load is high. Who do we shed? Industry is shut down. There is still gap. These areas are already facing seven to eight hours daily loadshedding during the day,” the CEO acknowledged, adding that low-loss areas were shed so that relief can be provided in high-loss areas.
“We are responsible that the situation has aggravated. We are responsible but we aren’t responsible alone,” he said, adding that KE had informed that the demand would hit 3,800MW this year.
“We are facing criticism for the 900MW project but we are going ahead with it anyways,” he said, sharing that he took industry representatives to Bin Qasim and showed them the plant. “I told them they should bear with it (loadshedding) this year,” stressing things will improve in Karachi.
The utility insists that all the issues — predominantly loadshedding — faced by the citizens are down to regulatory issues and delays involving other stakeholders. The key takeaway here is that if you are an average Karachiite, be prepared to grin and bear it. Since rain started around 4pm on Aug 6, many parts of the city plunged into darkness for hours. Many consumers had no power well after 16 hours. Feel free to blame it on the weather or your luck.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020