PESHAWAR: The rhetoric may have been cordial and friendly, but the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government faced something akin to an all-out revolt against the energy-saving measures recommended by the National Energy Conference.
At a meeting of the Task Force on Energy in Peshawar on Friday, the provincial government faced stiff resistance from the chambers of commerce and traders’ lobbying groups at the suggestion that they shift to a two-day weekday and only grudging acceptance of the idea that commercial areas in the province be shut down by 8 pm.
The task force includes members of the provincial cabinet, senior civil servants, the provincial police chief, the chief engineer of the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) – which serves the whole province – as well as the heads of the chambers of commerce and traders associations in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Members went over every recommendation made at the Second National Energy Conference that was held in Lahore earlier this week.
It soon became clear that the government officials and representatives of the state-owned power company wanted to reduce consumption as much as possible but were faced with resistance from the businessmen who were worried about their competitiveness with respect to their rivals in other provinces.
A common sentiment among many of the businessmen was that the provincial government should reject the federal proposal to share electricity in proportion to each province’s population, arguing that since Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa produces a large chunk of the nation’s electricity, its businesses should have more of it for their own use.
Pesco Chief Engineer Latif Khan explained that this was not entirely within the provincial government’s control. “Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had been allotted 928 megawatts of electricity from the shortfall quota. If it overloads then the Regional Coordinating Committee (RCC) in Islamabad shuts down our grid station,” he said.
Nonetheless, the provincial government agreed to press for a formula that takes into account a province’s production capacity as well as its population in determining how much electricity it will be allocated.
Another idea that traders were reluctant to accept was the two-day weekend, compared to the one-day weekend most of them observe now. On this, the provincial government appears to have found some room for compromise, approving the two-day weekend recommendation subject to the condition that it be approved by all other provinces as well so as not to unilaterally compromise the competitiveness of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa businesses.
And far from agreeing to closing retail markets at 8 pm, the traders association wanted to add an extra hour to their working day. On this, they had the support of Senior Minister Bashir Bilour, who said: “Since their businesses had been constant victims of terrorism, the prime minister should allow the businessmen and industrialists of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to lengthen their working hours by one more.”
Yet at the end of the day, both the politicians and the businessmen were reminded by Zafar Iqbal, the provincial energy secretary, how much electricity they need to save. “Working five days a week can save nearly 700 megawatts of electricity and by closing all the markets at 8 pm, 250 megawatt of power will be saved.”
The businessmen were willing to go along with the idea, subject to certain conditions. “We can approve the closure of retail markets by 8 pm if the government can guarantee us uninterrupted power between 8 am and 2 pm,” said one businessman at the meeting.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has some of the worst power outages in the country, averaging eight hours a day in Peshawar and between 14 and 18 hours a day in the rural areas of the province.