THE government expects the CCI-approved Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan 2021-30 to tackle such vital issues as excess capacity and expensive, non-transparent power contracts. Indeed, the IGCEP provides for new power-generation projects to be undertaken in accordance with demand-supply fundamentals through the open and competitive auction of contracts. But the decision to make hydropower projects the centrepiece of our future power-generation expansion plan at the expense of cheaper renewable alternatives — solar and wind — is problematic. The downward revision in targets to boost the share of non-hydro renewable energy in the country’s overall generation mix as envisioned in the Alternative Renewable Energy Plan from 30pc by 2030 to 10pc defeats the very objective of moving towards cleaner affordable electricity and dealing with the power-sector debt. Hence we see Sindh opposing the plan. Shortly after the CCI decision, Sindh’s energy minister took to Twitter to argue that the IGCEP bulldozes cost-effective efficient wind and solar power projects and violates the ARE Plan, the National Electricity Policy and Nepra guidelines. Insisting that the prime minister was being misled on the issue, he went on to state that Sindh would rest its case before a joint parliamentary session (to get the CCI decision overturned).

Sindh is not alone in rejecting the IGCEP, which seems to have been approved to procure the World Bank’s $400m Pakistan Programme for Affordable and Clean Energy loan at a time when the trade deficit is hitting the roof. Various civil society groups and academics had in July submitted before the power-sector regulator their objections to the NTDC’s plan. To begin with, the IGCEP indicates an increase in planned hydropower share to more than half the country’s total energy mix in the next 10 years. That sounds like a welcome development for the relevant government agencies since large-scale infrastructure schemes are good for politics and business. But does it augur as well for the people? The critics don’t think so. It is believed that Pakistan’s shift to hydropower will entail problems in terms of economic cost overruns, environmental damage and adverse socioeconomic consequences for lower riparian groups. If these hidden costs are also added to planning, most hydropower projects do not remain economically feasible.

That’s not all. Contrary to NTDC claims that the majority of the projects would be run-of-the-river with minimal environmental and social costs, approximately 97pc of new hydropower will come from large dams, intensifying internal water conflicts. Therefore, this shift to hydropower is difficult to defend owing to economic, social and ecological costs. A recent World Bank study notes that the least-cost electricity mix in Pakistan requires a rapid expansion of variable renewable energy sources of solar and wind since they have become the cheapest source for procuring power globally. What we need is the political will to support the shift to environment-friendly, affordable non-hydro renewable power.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2021

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