The winds of change

Published January 11, 2021
Sindh is considered a haven for wind energy, with perfect wind conditions, primarily in Thatta.— AFP/File
Sindh is considered a haven for wind energy, with perfect wind conditions, primarily in Thatta.— AFP/File

ABOUT seven kilometres from the Bholari turning point on left side of the Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway (M9), an uneven path leads to a barren land — the site of many windmill towers. From M9 I could barely make out the huge windmill towers, or wind turbine towers.

As I reached the site I found some Chinese workers working. Each windmill tower having three long blades was approximately 100 metres high. The blades on the towers were rotating very slowly due to low wind pressure.

This is one of the 10 wind energy projects undertaken by independent power producers (IPPs) in Sindh’s Jamshoro district. These projects are currently passing through various phases of execution. Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Sheikh, however, says they have been facing delays.

Unlike developed parts of the world where one can find productive agricultural activity going on underneath the wind turbine towers, this is not the case in this part of the world. Still, with two rows of huge towers dotting the hilly landscape on both sides of a path, the project offers an eye-catching view.

“But this company has used land which has not been allotted to it. The allotted land is somewhere else in the same area,” a low-ranking revenue official told me on the site of the 50MW wind energy project.

“Notices have been served on the IPP,” an officer confided to me.

Sindh is considered a haven for wind energy, with perfect wind conditions, primarily in Thatta. “Jamshoro is going to be another wind corridor,” said an energy ministry official and complained “but we find the federal government to be uncooperative”.

Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) aims to ensure that five per cent of the total electricity produced in the country is generated through renewable energy technologies by 2030. Being the sole federal agency set up for the purpose, AEDB’s task is to facilitate, promote and encourage development of renewable energy in Pakistan.

Two dozen wind projects in Sindh are already contributing 1,235MW of clean energy to the national grid. Another 10 have been approved and are meant to add 610MW to the grid. However, five more wind projects with a total capacity of 275MW are awaiting approval as federal government insists for competitive bidding in line with the Renewal Energy Policy of 2019-20.

“I wonder why there’s an insistence on bidding when we have already been granted a generation licence and allowed a tariff of 3.22 cents per kwh by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra),” grumbled Mustafa Abdullah, whose IPP was supposed to produce 25MW at Jhimpir.

“I have been given a lease of 200 acres of land by [Sindh] government, have erected a tower worth Rs50 million to measure wind (pressure), and honoured procedural requirements; yet I end up suffering,” he said, expressing apprehension that $10 million already invested by investors would be lost if the projects were not approved soon.

“It is interesting that we are contributing (only) 1,200MW of wind energy while our neighbouring country India is generating 40,000MW of wind power and another 20,000MW through solar,” he added.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan for 2019-20 says that the country has successfully overcome an energy crisis through enhancement in generation and transmission capacity. Turning to the issue of energy-mix, the survey says Pakistan’s reliance on imported and local coal, RLNG and natural gas has been decreasing over the last few years.

The country’s dependence on natural gas, as seen in the energy mix, is on the decline and reduction of its share in the mix is attributable to the declining gas reserves, it says.

BBC reported in mid-2020 that Britain went without burning coal for a couple of months while coal’s share in the energy mix was 40pc about a decade ago.

“The UK is not planning to shut down coal-fired plants after having optimum use of coal as fuel, while Pakistan is having a 1pc use of coal fuel that can go up to 2pc in the total energy mix. Therefore, we are still better off in terms of coal. Both India and China are using 60pc coal in their energy mix,” said Prof Dr Aslam Uqaili, vice chancellor of the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology.

He believes that promoting alternative and renewable energy (ARE) projects is key to reducing dependence on coal which is undoubtedly an unclean fuel. “We discuss production cost as environmental cost remains secondary,” he said.

“Around 106 ARE projects in different provinces are pending government’s nod. The federal government intends to go for the cheapest offer for IPPs. As for Sindh’s five IPPs, Nepra did its job as regulator,” said a Nepra officer.

“Balochistan’s wind corridor is perfect but due to infrastructural issues the projects have not been executed there,” said the officer over the phone from Islamabad.

Sindh established in November 2019 the Sindh Transmission and Despatch Company (STDC), much like the federal government-run National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC), under Nepra’s permission for granting transmission licences. STDC aims to act as a provincial grid company in what seems to be an achievement of the provincial energy department.

But Sindh’s Energy Minister Sheikh deplored what he called the federal government’s indifference towards the province’s wind power sector. “Baboos sitting in Islamabad take unilateral decisions. Even the PM is misguided. We have no representation in NTDC which blocks everything on the plea that electricity is a federal subject,” he said.

His main contention is that the wind corridor is Sindh’s “baby”. He wants the federal government to leave matters relating to it to Sindh. “We are the first province to have created a body like STDC and will manage the wind corridor on our own, but the federal government is discouraging us; thus 15 wind power projects have been inordinately delayed. What should be decided in the Council of Common Interests is discussed by the cabinet committee on energy,” he said.

He argued that federal government’s plans for bidding under the new policy would jeopardise everything as the IPPs would move the courts.

Sindh government faces a financial crunch in the backdrop of below-par transfer of revenues from the divisible pool (NFC Award), with Sindh chief minister and his party’s chairman questioning inadequate transfers every now and then. Without the required fiscal transfers, the laying of infrastructure under the STDC would not be viable.

The national grid is too fragile capacity-wise. A technical fault in the 500kV grid station or in any high transmission line plunges Karachi and the rest of Sindh into darkness. Sindh has had to face such problems more than any other province. Is anyone listening?

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2021

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