Plunging the capital city further into darkness at night is part of the government’s latest plan to conserve energy.
The plan, which was approved in a meeting chaired by the Water and Power Secretary Nargis Sethi on Monday, includes a complete ban on gas generators, an immediate ban on the use of decorative lights, reduction in streetlights and regulation of neon signs and billboards.
The Capital Development Authority (CDA) board approved the adoption of the energy conservation measures on Tuesday, with CDA Chairman Tahir Shahbaz saying that the plan will be implemented in letter and spirit.
According to the plan, streetlight usage will be reduced to 50% or less to save energy, while CDA Finance Member Azhar Ali Chaudhry in Tuesday’s meeting suggested that the consumption of streetlights should be metered.
Citing streetlights as a major financial drain, the CDA has looked to work around the issue before, but not without controversy.
In 2012, an ambitious but expensive CDA project to replace conventional streetlights with LED lights was grounded by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after it found out that civic body was procuring the energy-efficient lights at rates more than five times the open market. There were also allegations of political favouritism in the Rs6.5 billion project.
However, the number of streetlights might affect drivers at night.
“Usually a car’s headlights can illuminate up to 25 metres,” said Muhammad Jan, a taxi driver. “On a straight road, absence of streetlights can create trouble when the vehicles are moving at over 70 kilometres per hour, especially when drivers have to apply the brakes suddenly.”
The lack of functional streetlights may also spur crime in some areas. “The darkness is providing a cover for robbers. There have been a few incidents here recently,” said Shaukat Hussain Yousafzai, a trader in G-8 Markaz while speaking on the issue last month.
Khalil Sufi, a senior member of the Islamabad Citizens Committee, agrees with the conservation measures, albeit with a caveat. “Streetlights should be switched off after 10pm, except on roads with heavy traffic,” he said.
The CDA board has also announced an internal energy audit to calculate its minimum necessary power requirement in a bid to reduce its electricity bills, which currently amount to Rs1.5 billion per annum on average, according to CDA spokesperson Ramzan Sajid.
The civic body’s offices saw power being cut off by the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) at least twice this year on account of non-payment of dues. Recently, CDA paid Rs15 million to IESCO to restore its power supply after facing disconnection in September.
In addition to that, CDA will try to minimise lights inside and outside shops in commercial areas. The exact steps to achieve this goal are still unknown, but getting traders to close their shops earlier can be one option.
Sufi said he has written several letters to the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) on this. “I told them that as a consumer if I know the shops are going to close early, I will adjust my time to shop accordingly, but traders don’t agree. As an incentive, they can be allowed to keep shops open till late night on Saturdays,” he said.
ICCI President Zafar Bakhtawari, however, said the traders are ready to support any measures for national interest, if their personal interests are protected. He also defended the use of gas generators, terming them as a “less expensive tool” that relies on an indigenous resource.
“If we use petrol or diesel generators, we will have to spend more on fuel imports,” he remarked.
Moreover, CDA plans to discourage social functions at night and has decided to review the city’s building bylaws to ensure energy efficient building construction in future.
Sufi said people are quick to shift the blame to the government. Instead, they should share the responsibility. “I can’t understand why people won’t shift the wedding ceremonies to afternoons. We expect the government to do everything, we should contribute individually as well.”
Currently the capital city consumes about 250 Megawatts (MW) per day, said an official of the Ministry of Water and Power, adding that the impact that the conservation plan will have is still being calculated.
It is still uncertain how the CDA-approved mega projects will fit in to the plan. The under construction Centaurus project requires the amount of electricity needed to power an entire sector. Similarly, the One Constitution Avenue project, which will house a five-star hotel, luxury apartments and a shopping centre, will also add to the city’s energy demands heavily.
Last month, the CDA, IESCO and the Centaurus management reached an agreement to work on a separate power grid station for the Centaurus project, but the grid stations are just power distribution units and do not generate any electricity. CDA spokesperson Sajid didn’t respond to the questions in this regard.
Apart from that, the federal government’s conservation plan includes recommendations on efficient use of water and gas. A comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about energy and water conservation among residents is also being planned. However, such plans often struggle due to problems of enforcement.
A committee to regulate the implementation of the energy conservation plan has already been constituted under cabinet additional secretary. However, it is yet to be seen if the plan will actually provide any benefits to the city.
Energy conservation measures
Immediate ban on use of decorative lights.
Regulation of streetlights for minimum usage.
Regulation on use of billboards, neon signs.
Minimisation of lights’ usage in markets.
Holding social/official functions during day time.
Complete ban on gas generators.
Using gas geysers for specific timings.
Fixing gas, water leakages on priority basis.
Effective checking of water wastage.
Increasing awareness on efficient use of water through media.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2012.
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