Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister (FM) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reached Tharparkar on Monday and inaugurated a 330MW coal power plant situated at the Thar coal site.
The premier and the foreign minister were received at the airport by Sindh Chief Minister (CM) Syed Murad Ali Shah.
The inauguration ceremony of Thar Coal Block-II of the Engro Coal Mine Company was also attended by Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Shaikh and other federal ministers as well as Engro and Hubco chairmen.
Speaking on the occasion, CM Murad said that “Thar’s coal will brighten up all of Pakistan”.
Terming the power plant a “game changer” for Pakistan’s economy, CM Murad briefed the PM that Benazir Bhutto had opened the way for electricity production through Thar coal and that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari had also been engaged in the project later.
“For the production of electricity with the coal, a broad road network, bridges and airport were needed,” noted CM Murad adding that “according to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, Thar has 175 billion tons of coal”.
He also briefed the premier that Thar coal has 14 blocks and work is being focused on Blocks I and II at the moment.
“The government of Sindh worked tirelessly, spending $750 million to build infrastructure in Thar,” he added.
The chief minister also briefed the gathering that the project was part of a public-private partnership between Engro Corporation and the provincial government where the former holds 45 per cent of the shares while the latter holds the remaining.
The minister also revealed that in 2009, the project was initiated after the efforts of the two partners but since 2014 the work had progressed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for a 660 megawatts power plant adding that in 2015, the federal government had issued a sovereign guarantee for the project as well.
By 2022, the Sindh CM anticipates the production capacity of the power plant to increase up to 2,640 megawatts.
Around 12,500-gigawatt electricity from Thar coal has been added to the national grid, revealed the Sindh CM, hence bringing down the production cost of electricity to Rs17 per kWh compared to the Rs24per kWh in case of electricity produced by LNG, and Rs37 per kWh from imported coal.
The Sindh CM also claimed that Thar's coal-fired power generation would benefit the national exchequer by $2 billion by the end of 2022.
Thar Coal Block II spends 2 per cent of its profits on social development in Thar, employing at least 3,303 people from the region including women, stated the minister.
He added that the employees also receive a scholarship worth Rs75 million towards vocational training and that 23 schools had also been set up under the project.
A hospital with a 120-bed capacity has also been constructed under the project, according to the minister, where hundreds receive medical treatment daily.
It has been learnt that due to large coal reserves, it is not necessary to utilise all Thar coal for power production and that scientists are considering converting coal into liquid and gas so other industries, including fertiliser manufacturers, can also utilise the coal.
Pakistan has 175 billion tonnes of coal reserves in Tharparkar alone, equivalent to 50 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) which is more than Saudi Arabian and Iranian oil reserves. The reserves equal 2,000 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas which is 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves.
Thar coal can meet Pakistan’s electricity demand for several centuries and, as all the coal reserves will not be utilised for power production, there could be many other uses for the excess coal.
“Pakistan should now focus on local coal reserves for power generation as an alternative to imported fuel and coal given that its cost is much cheaper than the imported coal,” Sino-Sindh Resources Deputy CEO Chaudhary Abdul Qayyum had emphasised earlier.
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