Life limps back to normal after major outage

Probe team tasked to probe possible foreign hand in breakdown


Our Correspondent January 24, 2023
PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

Life in Pakistan started limping back to normalcy on Tuesday, a day after a massive nationwide breakdown left most of the country’s 220 million people without electricity and caused billions of rupees in industry losses.

The outage, which began on Monday morning, was the second major breakdown since October. Like much of the national infrastructure, the power network desperately needs an upgrade, but funding has been patchy as Pakistan staggered from one International Monetary Fund bailout to the next.

Though Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir announced restoring the national power grid, people faced on-and-off power outages in major cities, including Karachi, Islamabad, Quetta and Lahore.

The minister blamed the power outage on lack of investment in the network, saying the nation had "learned lessons".

"We learned lessons from yesterday (Monday) that we need to invest in the distribution system," the minister told the media.

"There hasn't been any investment from the previous government in improving these systems," he added.

The minister said the government also decided to probe the involvement of foreign hands in the prolonged power breakdown.

“The government suspects foreign interference like hacking in order to sabotage the power system,” the minister added.

Though the government was of the opinion that there were safety valves and measures in place to thwart such a move, the inquiry committee has been tasked to probe any such involvement.

“The government suspects foreign interference, such as system hacking,” the minister said. "However, its chances are very slim. We have had such incidents in the past, so we should not rule out the possibility."

He reiterated that the entire transmission system was safe, adding that no untoward incident was reported during Monday's nationwide power outage.

Read Energy consumption declines as shutdowns increase

The electricity had been restored in major parts of the country. However, the minister said that there would be a two-day power outage because the nuclear power plants needed 48-72 hours to start supplying electricity to the system.

Similarly, he said that the synchronisation of coal power plants took about 48 hours.

He added that there would be a power outage for the next 48 hours and that there would be limited power load-shedding.

However, he stated unequivocally that industrial consumers would be exempt from power load-shedding due to the incumbent government's policy.

The energy minister said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had constituted a three-member commission led by Minister of State for Petroleum Division Dr Musadik Malik to investigate the incident.

He added that the committee would also probe involvement of foreign hand in the cyber attacks on the power system in Pakistan.

Dastgir said that the entire power system had been fully restored across the country at 5:14am.

One unit each of Sahiwal and Engro coal power plants began operations on Monday.

He also ruled out fuel shortage, adding that there was enough fuel in the country to restore the power system.

He accepted that they tried not to use power plants that required a lot of energy while keeping in mind the electricity bills people had to pay.

According to him, January saw the lowest power demand in the country, standing at 8,615 MW on Monday night.

Despite the widespread outage, some areas in the federal capital and Peshawar had continuous power, he said, adding that there was no outage in flood-affected parts of Sindh and Balochistan.

He again blamed the PTI government for not investing in the transmission and generation systems over the last four years.

He also blamed the party for not upgrading the transmission system in line with the rising demand.

Several months ago, some parts of the country experienced limited power outages as a result of the PTI government's installation of 20-year-old conductors in critical power plants.

He claimed that the HVDC Matiari-Lahore Transmission Line, which was completed as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), only had a few safeguards.

They were working to bring innovation to the transmission system to ensure safety mechanisms, he added.

To another question, he stated that the power supply to Quetta Electric Supply Company had also been restored and that only routine load-shedding was being carried out.

The nuclear power plants in Karachi and Chashma had yet to begin operations, which according to him, would take 48-72 hours.

In the last few months, he claimed laying the groundwork for many grid stations and transmission systems worth Rs80 billion.

In the coming weeks, “PM Shehbaz will lay the groundwork for a mega grid station in Mansehra” to ensure the smooth transmission of electricity generated through Diamer Bhasha dam and other mega projects.

He stated that the new grid stations were part of the expansion plan, but the previous administration did nothing in this regard.

When asked about resigning due to massive blackouts that occurred twice during his tenure, he quickly quipped: “Why should I resign.”

He also blamed the K-Electric for not showing quick response regarding electricity generation from its own power plants.

“The KE looks towards the federal government for providing electricity.”

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