Giving in to the pressure from an international lender, the government has reversed its decision on consuming domestic coal for power generation as the Council of Common Interests has approved using a blend of imported and Thar coal in power plants.
The move will pave the way for an early sanction of a $900 million loan by the Asian Development Bank that will go for the construction of a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant at Jamshoro and for switching an existing 600MW power plant to coal.
According to sources in the finance ministry, further discussions on the $900 million loan will be held with ADB Director General of Central and West Asia Department Klaus Gerhaeusser, who was due to arrive on Wednesday.
During his two-day visit, Gerhaeusser will meet Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Water and Power Minister Ahmad Mukhtar. He will also hold meetings to review communication projects.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had placed a ban on imported coal-powered plants in a bid to encourage consumption of Thar coal in such projects. However, the ADB resisted the move and refused to extend loans for Thar coal-based power plants.
The bank was of the view that higher dependence on lignite would increase pollution, which was against the environmental policy of the lending agency.
Following the ADB’s decision, the federal government placed the case in a meeting of the CCI – a constitutional body headed by the prime minister with all chief ministers as members – on January 23. According to official documents, the CCI decided that “instead of using only Thar coal, a blend of imported and Thar coal will be used in the 600MW Jamshoro plant.”
In this meeting, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who actively promotes mining and consumption of Thar coal, was also present.
CCI also decided that the Ministry of Water and Power would work out further details in deliberations with representatives of the ADB.
Apart from the ADB, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has also expressed interest in constructing power plants in Pakistan, besides laying a power transmission lines from Thar to Matiari.
In the past many years, heavy reliance on furnace oil has disturbed the country’s energy mix. Against a one-third share of thermal power generation earlier, the ratio has increased to three-fourths. The recent emphasis on the shift to coal is aimed at tackling the runaway circular debt that has plagued the entire energy chain, forcing the government to spend billions of rupees every month to prop up the energy system.
According to a government official, it was not yet clear whether Pakistan will again take up the issue of financing the Diamer Basha Dam with the ADB director general.
However, he said these days the dam, costing $11.3 billion, was not the top priority of the government, which has shifted funds meant for the dam to another project, the Neelum Jhelum hydropower plant. An amount of Rs1 billion has also been diverted to the PM’s discretionary funds.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2013.
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