Power from the provinces

Published: May 11, 2017

The devolution of powers to the provinces has now led to the provinces’ ability to create power independently. The federal government conceded on Tuesday 9th May that all the provinces shall henceforward have the right to generate electricity, transmit and distribute it. This could have far-reaching and profound consequences. There is much work yet to be done but the possibility — indeed now the probability — that electricity is going to be generated in-province and distributed via transmission lines that are the creation of each province, and revenue collected for provincially-produced power is now before us. The provinces had been agitating for the move for some time, and negotiations with the federal water and power minister have now borne fruit. Or watts. The provinces had argued that they had a constitutional right under Article 157 of the Constitution to set up electricity generating units and their accompanying infrastructure.

There is now the potential to create internal provincial markets for power and for the provinces to sell power to one another. On the face of it this is good news. For Sindh, in particular, which already has a bagasse-based generating capacity, the decision is important. There are up to 20 hours of power cuts a day. If issues surrounding tariffs can be resolved argue the Sindh representatives, this could be reduced by 4-5 hours daily, a not insignificant improvement in the lives of millions.

Much wrangling now lies ahead, and with the election a year away and the power crisis unresolved as is the accompanying circular debt burden, the federal government will want to take the sting out of accusations of failing to deliver on electoral promises. Merely putting more power into the wires as the government is striving to do may not be a solution, as the elderly infrastructure of distribution and transmission lacks the capacity to deliver much by way of an increase in generation. This new development in the devolution of power to the provinces is not going to produce power overnight as each province is going to have to decide how best to respond — and just as importantly find the money to capitalise on this opportunity; but the potential is there for real improvement. About time.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2017.

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