NationalVolume 12 Issue # 11

Winter nightmares return

Pakistan suffered two major breakdowns in a space of weeks in winter, which plunged most parts of the country into the dark for 10 to 20 hours on each occasion. The country already faces power suspension for at least eight hours in urban areas and 12 hours in rural areas daily, besides a drastic cut in the gas supply. The energy crisis has worsened with the start of winter. However, it is not power suspension that is hurting people the most. Instead, the gas crisis has affected domestic users badly and they cannot even cook their breakfast, lunch or dinner at home. Unannounced loadshedding has also returned, which has severely disrupts the routine life of the common man. People in many areas also staged protest demonstrations against power and gas outages.

On January 2, a massive electricity breakdown left almost the entire country without power for hours as a lethal combination of pollution and fog led to the tripping of key transmission lines and a main thermal power plant. The 500-KV Guddu-Dadu transmission line tripped due to foggy conditions, leaving central and southern parts of the country in darkness for up to 16 hours, while the power managers were left with no option but to suspend the supply to the remaining cities and rural areas with intervals, in a bid to stabilise the shabby transmission and distribution network. After additional reduction of around 2,000MW of the electricity supply, unplanned power cuts of two to three hours in cities and eight to 16 hours in rural areas by the Regional Control Center (RCC) made life worse. According to an estimate, the total shortfall due to technical fault rose to 5,000MW.

According to the Ministry of Water and Power, the power breakdown technically divided the national grid into two parts, affecting the power supply from Karachi to Peshawar, a first such occurrence on the beginning of the New Year. The power supply situation aggravated further after the subsequent shutting down of the Guddu Thermal Plant. According to officials, 1,700MW of electricity was disconnected from the national grid amid cascading effect tripping.

On January 5, 13 districts of Sindh suffered around a 15-hour power breakdown. The power supply was suspended at around 3am and restored gradually at around 5pm, which halted all business activities and work in public and private offices in the province. The Punjab faced a 10-hour blackout on December 16, because of a disruption in the transmission system. Thick fog was cited as the reason for the power breakdown which resulted in the tripping of a 220KV Kala Shah Kaku grid station. Tripping in the main transmission system of the National Transmission and Dispatch Company Limited (NTDCL) also disrupted the power supply to the Gujranwala Electric Supply Company (GEPCO) and the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (FESCO) for hours, but Lahore was hit the wrost

The Lahore Electricity Supply Company (LESCO) also closed grid stations in Okara and Kasur as a precautionary measure to protect the system, resulting in up to five-hours power cuts in both cities and their rural areas. The power cut ground life to a standstill in the affected areas and water fell short and children could not attend school. In Rawalpindi, loadshedding of electricity and low gas pressure have become a headache for the residents. The Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), defying the prime minister’s orders, is observing long-hours of loadshedding, citing different excuses.

In the Punjab, unannounced power outages have returned ahead of the annual canal closure. The Lahore Electric Supply Company failed to inform consumers about short supplies of power from the national grid because of lowering of outflows from dams. Now, urban areas are facing up to 10 hours of outages and rural areas up to 16 hours. On the other hand, the industry has been exempted from power outages. Commercial consumers are facing three-hour a day outages. The intensity of loadshedding may increase gradually following reduction in outflows from the dams. More worrying, LESCO has also increased the frequency of planned shutdowns on the pretext of repairs and its so-called augmentation plan.

Contrary to the public posture of the government, Minister of Water and Power Khawaja Asif admitted that power loadshedding would not end even in 2018. In a written reply submitted in the National Assembly, Asif said that the demand for power would be 25,790 MW in 2018, while the country would be generating 18,034 MW. The federal minister informed the lower house of the parliament that there were 43 power generation companies, of which 14 were not operational. No independent power company is producing electricity according to its full capacity,while 21 companies are generating less than 50 percent, while only three power projects are generating 90 percent electricity.

An annual report of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) last year also painted a dark picture of the national grid. All power companies operating in the public and private sectors failed to meet generation, transmission and distribution standards and sent inflated bills to consumers to cover up their inefficiencies. It highlighted the plight of consumers and the poor performance of the government in its topmost priority sector.
The power crisis has eased a bit in the Punjab after some cosmetic measures by the government, but the situation in other provinces remains the same. The circular debt has also ballooned in the meantime. The government had paid Rs480b to the independent power produces (IPPs) in December 2013. However, the circular debt has again reached the same level in three years.

The government has started the LNG project to end the gas crisis in the country. It has also signed the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project but its coming to fruition is difficult because of the situation in Afghanistan. The Iran-Pakistan gas project could have been a better option. The government has pinned all hopes on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, but it may not be able to meet our rising demands.