ISLAMABAD, Jan 2: A report has said the country could have been rid of circular debt and heavy loadshedding if the ministry of water and power had completed 18 hydropower projects in time --- 15 in 2007 and three in June last year.

According to a research report prepared by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, the delay in completion of 15 run-of-river projects with a capacity of 1,258MW, scheduled to be commissioned by June 2007, led to an energy crisis. It warned that the power shortfall could rise to 10,000MW over a couple of years.

The delay in the completion of 1,848MW Neelum-Jhelum and Chakothi-Hattian projects in Azad Kashmir and Kohala project on the Jhelum, which were scheduled to be commissioned in June 2010, spoke volumes about the government's lack of interest in pursuing hydropower plans, the report said.

In spite of the targets set in 2002, only the 86MW Malakand-III project has been completed during the past eight years, increasing the installed capacity of hydropower projects to 3,226MW.

Had all the 18 projects been implemented, Pakistan would have had 4,210MW of cheap hydroelectricity to keep the wheel of economic growth turning.

The country has hydropower potential of over 120,000MW, of which 56,773MW is exploitable. However, it has only been able to tap 6,703MW. This is about six per cent of the potential and 32.8 per cent of the energy mix.

“Hydroelectric power is the most reliable energy source, even more than wind and solar which have capacity factors of only 12 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively. In comparison, the hydroelectric plants have factors of 45 to 50 per cent,” the report said.

The study questioned the ministry's latest initiative of building small dams to bring about a revolution. “This assertion is propaganda, since the country will gain only 7MW and 300,000 acre-feet of water after spending Rs31 billion.”

It said the argument that hydropower projects took too long to execute was weak in light of modern project management practices in the sector.

A famous dam was completed in 12 months and 17 days to generate 166MW and US engineers set a record by completing a dam on the Clark Fork River in half the stipulated time to generate 231MW and store 106,000 acre-feet of water.

The report suggested that the national policy should shift from high-cost power generation to low-cost hydroelectricity. “Bad governance and intuitional weakness have reduced the hydro-thermal mix from 67 to 32 per cent at a huge cost.”

India completed the Salal and Dulhasti hydropower projects at an average cost of $3.28 million and $2.12 million per megawatt, while Kishanganga, Chutak and Nimmo-Bazgo projects are under construction at $2.57 million, $3.18 million and $3.28 million per MW.

Despite an abnormal inflation, the average capital cost in Pakistan is $1.5 million per megawatt, much cheaper than in India. Hydroelectricity, which is a clean and renewable form of energy, costs only 37 paisa per kWh and is by far the cheapest source of energy for the country, according to the report.

On the other hand, the report said, the ministry of water and power had made abortive attempts to import electricity at a much higher cost.

An attempt was made to import electricity from Tajikistan through a 650km transmission line, but attention was not paid to three multipurpose hydropower projects in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas which were 30km from the national grid and could add 1,315MW to the grid --- the 740MW Munda project in Mohmand Agency, 400MW Kalangi project and 175MW Khazana project.

The policy was aimed at generating an additional 4,210MW of hydropower but the ministry allowed eight thermal plants of 1,700MW.

It also made a policy to acquire rental power plants and chalked out an agreement in 2008 whereby $136 million was paid in advance to four oil-based 580MW projects rented at $1.24 billion for five years.

According to the report, the Asian Development Bank has sent a strong note against rental power projects and a corruption case against the ministry's officials is in the Supreme Court.