A THREE-DAY emergency energy conference called by the prime minister and attended by top government officials and energy-sector executives has produced a number of binding measures. It is claimed that plans have been formulated to tackle the energy crisis in both the short and long terms.
A number of initiatives have been identified to reduce loadshedding by 33 per cent. Prominent measures taken in this regard include a five-day working week for all government-run institutions and the closure of commercial markets by 8pm. Medical clinics, pharmacies and bakeries have been exempted from this deadline while provision of electricity to billboards and neon signs has been barred. Agricultural connections are to remain offline during peak hours and air conditioners in government offices cannot be turned on before 11am. Another key initiative is the move to curtail circular debt by Rs116bn to allow existing power plants to increase their generation capacity.
Technically speaking these initiatives are load-management measures. Energy conservation, which is how the plan is being portrayed, is an entirely different phenomenon. But this conflation of two contrasting concepts comes as no surprise when even former energy ministers can be seen on television presenting questionable data and technically incorrect information.
Business and trade bodies are deeply disappointed with the outcome of the conference, pointing out that the measures announced are bound to dent their interests. Resentful as they are, these organisations have to realise that there is just not enough electricity to meet their full requirements. It is an unfortunate reality that compromises must be made. However, the business community is fully entitled under any circumstances to a carefully designed loadshedding schedule so that all available energy can be optimally utilised.
In theory the energy conference was a commendable effort but it should have taken place two years ago. The decisions taken are noteworthy but by no means satisfactory. The severity of the situation demanded a lot more.
A number of key issues have been ignored. For example, electricity theft through kundas, other illegal connections and meter-tampering has been overlooked even though it consumes roughly 15 per cent of the total electricity generated. Losses incurred on this count come to a staggering Rs150bn a year. At the same time, surging power tariffs and their impact on the public was apparently not a concern for the authorities since a price hike of up to Rs1.35 per kWh was announced during the conference. Even though repeated tariff hikes are going to make life even more difficult for ordinary people — and promote electricity theft — the practice has been allowed to continue.
Energy conservation through increasing the efficiency and productivity of industrial, commercial and domestic equipment has been completely ignored. Nor has any attention been paid to the pressing matter of bringing in qualified and relevant professionals to run energy offices.
Similarly, rental power projects have been given the green light despite the fact that almost every quarter except the government has serious reservations about their economic viability. The electricity generated by rental plants will be of no use to either industrial, agricultural, commercial or domestic consumers if it is beyond their purchasing power. It is, however, going to pose colossal problems for Wapda and the country's already fragile economy. Opting for the rental power programme is tantamount to adding an unnecessary, heavy and ugly burden on a building whose foundations are tottering.
The real problem in Pakistan is not lack of policies but their implementation. In this particular case, it is said that implementation of the measures announced by the government will be reviewed on a fortnightly basis. Be that as it may, meaningful implementation cannot be ensured in conferences and meetings but in the field. A robust and stringent system of checks and balances has not been defined.
Will the same Wapda officials and staffers that promote electricity theft ensure that there is no violation of the prescribed measures? Are government officials, an overwhelming majority of whom play fast and loose with national resources, expected to voluntarily stop the use of air conditioners? Will a helping hand be forthcoming from the police and other authorities that patronise corruption in society? Obviously, these are the segments that have to be channelised and they must lead by example. But the question is, how can mindsets developed over decades be changed overnight?
One cannot help wonder if there were a few amongst the energy conference participants who have directly or indirectly benefited from blatant corruption or white-collar crime. The irony is that even the federal minister for water and power, Raja Pervez Ashraf, has been accused of hefty corruption in the rental power programme which he espouses so ardently. Naveed Qamar, the minister for petroleum and natural resources, is also under the spotlight in the wake of the LNG scandal.
By and large the national energy conference provided solutions that are superficial rather than sustainable. An attempt may have been made but it was too little and came too late.
The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.