Enough to light up Hyderabad at 8 rupees a unit

Hafeez Tunio May 14, 2010

KARACHI: Pakistan’s first ever coal power plant is generating barely eight per cent of its capacity at a time when power outages are at their worst and despite the fact that Sindh has one of the world’s largest coal reserves.

The Lakhra Coal Power Generation Company was set up in 1994 in Jamshoro by a Chinese company Dong Fong Electrics. With three units capable of producing 150 megawatts (MW) each, the plant should have been a godsend in a country where ‘scheduled’ power outages can last for as long as 12 hours. But unfortunately, the plant started experiencing problems soon after it had started working. Shortages and breakdowns left two of the three units completely useless by 2002.

For eight years, the power plant has been crippled - its sole surviving unit producing just 30 to 25MW of electricity, officials informed The Express Tribune. Even this unit does not work around-the-clock. “It works about 20 days a month,” an official reported. Depending on who you ask, you will get different explanations. For example, the resident engineer of the plant, Ghulam Rasool Akhund, blamed the breakdowns on substandard equipment provided by the Chinese company. “All the machinery is low quality,” he said.

On the other hand, other officials said that the Chinese company had instructed them that the machinery in the units need maintenance every 20 to 25 days. To keep the equipment in top working condition, it requires coal dust cleaning. The plant’s administration, however, paid no heed to these instructions and delays in routine maintenance caused the persistent breakdowns of the boilers, feeders, pre-heaters and other equipment. “Every 10 days there was a fault in one or the other machine,” a senior official explained. “These parts had to be imported from China. But when the breakdowns continued to happen, the Wapda officials finally decided to turn down our requests.”

Power generation with coal is cheap. It costs WAPDA around Rs12 per unit compared to Rs16 from furnace oil. The cost of producing power through coal can actually come down to Rs7 or Rs8 if the other two units of the plant are up and working again. However, some officials at the plant feel that there is more than the administration’s alleged apathy towards the once-promising Lakhra plant. “I think some people are deliberately discouraging the coal plant to earn money by importing [furnace] oil,” an official said.

According to Akhund, if the three units of the power plant are maintained then Lakhra can easily provide enough power for a population of around three million people. “It means that the power generation would be enough for Hyderabad and its adjoining areas,” he said. They have proposed to WAPDA that they set up another coal power plant that would be able to produce 200MW but approval is awaited.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 15th, 2010.