KARACHI: Notwithstanding the full-page ads to mark the successive commissioning of 2,400-megawatt coal power plants in Thar, the state-backed sole electricity buyer is unable to despatch more than 75 per cent of the aggregate capacity.
Only 1,800MW of the 2,400MW Thar power plants can be evacuated at any given time owing to transmission constraints. Delays in the construction of the second transmission line between Thar and Matiari Converter Station have resulted in the coal-based power plants sitting idle despite ranking highly on the merit order of efficient electricity producers.
Central Power Purchasing Agency-Guarantee Ltd (CPPA-G), which is the government-owned single buyer of electricity from independent power producers, recently wrote a letter to National Transmission and Despatch Company Ltd (NTDC) demanding that CPPA-G be updated about the “progress and tentative commissioning date” of the transmission line.
“It is clear that in the present scheme, all four Thar coal power projects cannot be evacuated completely at once, which raises a serious concern on the power evacuation and the capacity of the transmission line,” said the letter seen by Dawn.
Demand for electricity will increase in the coming summer season, but the “full cheap-power evacuation from indigenous coal is not possible” under the current circumstances, it added.
Power generation began in Thar with two coal-based plants of 330MW each by Engro Powergen in Block-2. Later on, Hub Power along with other shareholders built two more power plants of 330MW each in the same Block-2.
Meanwhile, Shanghai Electric built two power plants of 660MW each in Block-1 of Thar coalfields. Around 2,400MW of the installed capacity of 2,640MW is dispatchable. But only one transmission line, which can carry up to 1,800MW, is currently available for the four Thar projects.
The inadequacy of infrastructure has resulted in “abnormal voltage” and “frequency fluctuations” for Thar power plants on the sole dedicated transmission line, the CCPA-G said.
A source in the power sector told Dawn that the two plants in Block-1 are being despatched continuously because of their low per-unit cost of coal.
As for Block-2, the source said only two of the four plants are despatched at any given time — one each from Engro and Hub Power.
According to an energy sector expert, producing 600MW on imported coal instead of Thar coal is costing around $30 million every month. Producing that much electricity through imported gas should cost $35m in imports, he said.
Speaking to Dawn, a senior official of NTDC said work on the under-construction transmission line should be complete in “two to two and a half months”. The 220-kilometre long transmission line costing about Rs12 billion was supposed to be complete by August 2022. The deadline was extended to January this year, but that was also missed.
“Prices of everything from steel and cement went up three times. Then the floods hit and halted all construction work. Building a transmission line involves right-of-way issues, which make the process complicated and time-consuming,” he said, adding that the process should be over by the end of April.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2023