Power breakdown: Nationwide blackout

Published: January 25, 2015
A view of a Karachi neighbourhood after Saturday night’s power breakdown. PHOTO: EXPRESS

A view of a Karachi neighbourhood after Saturday night’s power breakdown. PHOTO: EXPRESS

LAHORE / QUETTA / ISLAMABAD / KARACHI: Almost all of Pakistan plunged into darkness around 11:50 pm on Saturday night as an attack by Baloch separatists on transmission lines near Naseerabad in Balochistan caused nearly the entire national grid to trip, shutting down electricity supply to over 80% of the country.

The transmission tower blown up was near Notal, a town in Naseerabad district in Balochistan, confirmed Sharbat Umrani, the head of the local police station. The damage to the 220 kilovolt-Amperes (kVA) transmission lines between Sibi and Quetta caused a backward surge of power to the Guddu power plant in Sindh, which in turn caused a cascading effect on the entire national grid, said Water and Power Secretary Younus Dagha.

“It might take a while to fix, hopefully we will be able to control the situation by morning,” he said. “We have restored the Guddu power plant and have also started production from Tarbela.”

The attack near Notal is the third attack on the nation’s energy grid in two weeks in Naseerabad. Later at night, water and power ministry officials said that the Kotri and Uch I power plants had also been restored and that power plants at Tarbela, Mangla and Ghazi Barotha dams had also been turned on, which would result in power being restored by 5 am on Sunday morning. Officials at the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) said that as the restoration work proceeds, Islamabad will get power first, followed by pockets of Lahore, Gujranwala and Faisalabad.

Almost all of Pakistan was in darkness on Saturday night, with no electricity available in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad or Balochistan. Some parts of Sindh still had electricity, but even most parts of Sindh were in darkness.

The breakdown followed daylong media coverage of the dangerously low level of furnace oil stock, which helps run a most of the thermal power plants in the country. But Dagha toldThe Express Tribune around 12:45am that he suspected sabotage. “We cannot rule out sabotage activity. I am in the control room myself and we are all trying to figure out what has happened,” he said. “Our first priority is to bring back this system online.”

Earlier in the night, there had been speculation that the system had tripped due to a decline in power production as the country’s power plants run dangerously low on furnace oil supplies. Dagha ruled out this explanation. “We had pushed up power production to 9,500 MW by evening. Even 800 MW more of hydroelectric power generation was available.”

Power consumption over the last few days has hovering around the 14,000 MW mark. “Before this breakdown we were successfully managing the shortage by carrying out load shedding for industrial consumers,” Dagha said.

The government has shut down natural gas supply to state-owned power plants in Punjab in order to supply gas to the inefficient captive power plants run large textile companies, resulting in approximately one-third of the country’s power generation supply being unavailable to handle the load.

This is not the first time that 500KVA loop has collapsed. But in almost all the cases the cause has been a sudden shutdown of power supply at point that led to chain-reaction throughout the system.  A major part of the thermal generation is concentrated in Sindh while the hydel power comes from north and the main load center where most of the consumption takes places lies in heart of Punjab.

People associated with the power industry said this was expected to happen considering the lethargy on part of government officials especially in arranging furnace oil supply.

Government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that most power plants were reliant on production at local refineries for their furnace oil supplies. Domestic refineries only have the capacity to supply 40% of Pakistan’s total refined fuel needs. The remainder is often imported in refined form. However, the country’s largest oil importer, Pakistan State Oil, currently has virtually no inventory left of furnace oil, resulting in a severe shortage of fuel in the country.

The water and power ministry continued to deny that there was a shortage of furnace oil in the country, claiming that the country had a ten-day supply of furnace oil, even as power plants at Jamshoro and Muzaffargarh continued to operate at less than a quarter of their capacity due to low fuel reserves.

PSO’s financial troubles have led banks to refuse lending to the company for its oil import needs. The company has defaulted on Rs46 billion of Letters of Credit (LCs), and international banks have blocked Rs110 billion worth of LCs for PSO. The company will be unable to resume importing oil until it can pay back the Rs46 billion in LCs.

At a meeting of government officials chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it had been decided that the government would release Rs40 billion in funds to state-owned power companies so that they could pay their bills to PSO for fuel. That injection of liquidity could have solved PSO’s immediate cash crunch, but the decision to release the funds was then delayed.

The government tried the alternative path of asking domestic refineries to directly supply power plants in the country, but they do not have the capacity to meet total demand.

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Reader Comments (36)

  • Tangerine
    Jan 25, 2015 - 4:04AM

    Here Obama lands in India, there the main grid station is blown up in Baluchistan. Good tactics to keep neighbours busy for 2 days by … a,ahm! someone.


  • ajeet
    Jan 25, 2015 - 4:23AM

    It’s 21st century in the rest of the world.


  • Blithe
    Jan 25, 2015 - 4:36AM

    We are in the midst of a war! This is the blowback . Show some spine and live with it. Stop crying like babies !


  • salman
    Jan 25, 2015 - 4:41AM

    Bogus reporting. How an attack on just electric tower can cause such a massive power supply break down throughout the country.WAPDA, KESC there all infrastructure lacks quality and administrative skills and later they comes up with lame excuses of some random attack, shortage of oil etc stories just to save their backs.


  • omar cheema
    Jan 25, 2015 - 4:56AM

    the baloch uprising is not a popular uprising. 90% of Baloch population is living as slaves under landowners, the uprising is only a handful of landowners trying to hold onto power using their private militias.

    we need to crush these terrorists as free the baloch people from these evil landowners. balochistan should also be given more autonomy so baloch people can develop themselves from federal government corruption.


  • AVMPolpot
    Jan 25, 2015 - 6:19AM

    Ishaq Dar was right: this is a deep conspiracy against Pakistan
    And the conspirator is: PML N.


  • AVMPolpot
    Jan 25, 2015 - 6:31AM

    We have now new found respect for
    Prez Zardari and PM Gilani


  • Petrov
    Jan 25, 2015 - 7:21AM

    The failure and incompetence of the government is being blamed of separatists, even if we were to accept the government’s version, its still a failure of the government’s security agencies.


  • objective observer
    Jan 25, 2015 - 7:57AM

    Are these terrorists good or bad?


  • Saud
    Jan 25, 2015 - 8:33AM

    Such fragile infrastructure, it should be kept in a glass cabinet…. ONE TOWER helps in getting the whole country plunge into darkness.. This isn’t your everyday ordinary insanity… This is ADVANCED insanity!


  • Hatim
    Jan 25, 2015 - 8:47AM

    Good governance and democracy at it again.


  • Khan
    Jan 25, 2015 - 9:04AM

    democracy is the best revenge


  • free baalochistan
    Jan 25, 2015 - 9:30AM

    Freedom. Just one word to all Pakistanis. Time for you to accept it and let balochistan free. Long live balochistan.Recommend

  • pakistani
    Jan 25, 2015 - 9:44AM

    welldone pml(N). your experience to ruin everything is showing up. we have one crisis followed by another.


  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jan 25, 2015 - 9:53AM

    I am very grieved to read this report that the country plunged into darkness due to sabotage by the Baloch separatist.

    Balochistan means Pakistan and if separatists will not refrain from doing such activities then they should not complain about the attitude of the government.

    Few Baloch separatist are also giving bad name to the entire Baloch community which is not good.

    The majority of the Baloch are Patriots and considerable number of Baloch are also serving in Pakistan Army defending the borders of Pakistan.

    The government should treat such separists with iron hands and should not spare a single person who goes against the interest of Pakistan.

    Sabotage is a terrorist activity and such cases happening in Balochistan should be tried in the Military Courts and separatists should be awarded exemplary punishment.


  • Petriot
    Jan 25, 2015 - 10:03AM

    17 districts of Balochistan had been in total darkness since 7th january in result of a power strugle b/w Qesco and Wapda over payments.. Qesco released statement that shortage was a result of attacks on power line which was lie as when CM visited interior balochistan electricity was provided 24 hrs when he left it was load shedding again..


  • SuperNeo
    Jan 25, 2015 - 10:10AM

    Happy Sunday !!!


  • Wali
    Jan 25, 2015 - 10:30AM

    Each passing day we are seeing the facade of the governance and the State disappear. Can only pray and hope for it all to stabilise.


  • bash gul
    Jan 25, 2015 - 10:54AM

    After independence, India abolished all the princely and feudal system and introduced the land reforms. Here in Pakistan, the Sardari system still persists in Baluchistan. Why the need to have FATA? We are still fighting in the tribal areas and Baluchistan. Its all bad goverence. If the Baluchis were given their rights and the tribal area taken into the main stream politcs, we would not have faced these problems.


  • WB
    Jan 25, 2015 - 11:00AM

    @Blithe: Yes we’re at war with PMLN or is this the revenge of democracy??


  • harsh
    Jan 25, 2015 - 11:14AM

    This is a conspiracy by zaid hamid’s 3 favourite intelligence agencies


  • Anon
    Jan 25, 2015 - 11:15AM

    Shining Pakistan…Land of Pure…lol


  • Ashraf
    Jan 25, 2015 - 11:22AM

    This should not be news for Afpak nations.


  • Indian
    Jan 25, 2015 - 11:29AM

    @Tangerine: No need for all that. Our neighbor is busy as it is with little help from us.


  • Fritzerald
    Jan 25, 2015 - 11:58AM

    Wonder if Pakistans position will fall below #11 in the Failed States Index in 2015?


  • JSM
    Jan 25, 2015 - 12:09PM



  • Aschraful Makhlooq
    Jan 25, 2015 - 12:09PM

    These are the achievements of experienced PML-N’s team which is showing lame excuses to camouflage its demerits,weaknesses and inabilities to overcome the current the most severe crises Pakistan is facing and suppose if PML-N’s team was inexperienced,this is even horrible to be considered,then what happens to Pakistan and Pakistan’s people.How long this will be continued in Pakistan and how long Pakistan people will be deceived and fooled by the irresponsibility by the PML-N’s experienced team????


  • MS
    Jan 25, 2015 - 12:21PM

    Trolls post whilst actual pak observers/readers unable to access online beeecaussse the powerrr is dowwwn!!! Sho sho dirties


  • Vishnu Reddy
    Jan 25, 2015 - 1:34PM

    @ Tangerine
    Re You Comment: “Here Obama lands in India, there the main grid station is blown up in Baluchistan. Good tactics to keep neighbours busy for 2 days by … a,ahm! someone.”

    A,ahm! Here Obama lands in India, there the main grid station is blown up in Baluchistan. Good tactics by Punjabi Military Dominated Deep State of Pakistan to create a false flag operation and play the victim of Indian Terrorism in Balochistan card as a counter to the Indo-American discussions, among others, on the topic of Pakistan’s role as a fomenter of Islamic Terrorism in the neighbourhood and beyond … {wink}.


  • Vishnu Reddy
    Jan 25, 2015 - 1:56PM

    @ Tangerine
    Re You Comment: “Here Obama lands in India, there the main grid station is blown up in Baluchistan. Good tactics to keep neighbours busy for 2 days by … a,ahm! someone.”

    A,ahm! Here Obama lands in India, there the main grid station is blown up in Baluchistan. Good tactics by Punjabi Military Dominated Deep State of Pakistan to create a false flag operation and play the victim of Indian Terrorism in Balochistan card as a counter to the Indo-American discussions, among others, on the topic of Pakistan’s role as a fomenter of Islamic Terrorism in the neighbourhood and beyond … {wink}.Recommend

  • Hari Om
    Jan 25, 2015 - 2:05PM

    Excesses committed by Punjab dominated security forces targeting Balochi origin people such as extra judicial executions, sponsoring death squad militia’s, enforced disappearances, torture, custodial rape, and the like will inevitably be resisted by the freedom yearning people of Balochistan by actions such as blowing up transmission lines causing Pakistan’s National Electricity grid to collapse. The 700,000 Punjabi dominated occupation forces will not succeed in dousing the fire of liberation in Baluchistan just as was the case in the erstwhile East Pakistan which forms todays Bangladesh.

    India must provide fullest diplomatic and moral support to the Baloch freedom struggle. Indian Consulates in Iran and Afghanistan must provide all necessary help to Baluch freedom fighters


  • Joseph
    Jan 25, 2015 - 5:40PM

    There was no outage due to blown up towers. The 220kV (Kilo Volt – NOT Kilo Volt Ampere which is a measure of power not voltage) out of Uch flashed over because of dirty insulators. Maintenance has not been doing there job washing the lines. In the heavy fog moisture builds up on the insulator strings and the lines flash over and trip. The protective equipment was blocked and with not under frequency protection in service the line fault expanded in magnitude and tripped Guddu and Uch. This caused an under frequency situation that took down most of the grid. Fault of NTDC.


  • bahadur khan
    Jan 26, 2015 - 9:27AM

    @bash gul: For once a pakistani has said a right thing. Sardar Patel Vallabhbhai Patel is the architect of this governance, But Nehru ensured Sardar Patel leaves for heaven early, So that he does not become PM. Modi is a rebirth of Sadar patel.


  • bahadur khan
    Jan 26, 2015 - 9:32AM

    @Tangerine: thanks pakistani backed gangs even today blow up oil pipelines, coal trucks, mineral oil pipelines in India. Are we complaining or are viewers recommending such comments


  • bahadur khan
    Jan 26, 2015 - 10:49AM

    @Tangerine: good job. why dont you encourage, geelani, mufti mohammed, omar abdullah, salhudiin, to blow up a few power plants, pipelines. send a million dollar.


  • bahdurkhan
    Jan 27, 2015 - 8:56AM

    if Nawaz wants he can ensure power normal situation in Pakistan.
    1. Transmission line of 500 Mw from Punjab is ready
    2. Diesel. firnace oil, pipeline oil from Bhatinda refinery
    3. Power supply from J&K 75 Mw to POk.

    we Indians are not asking for life long contract.
    we are charging in US DOLLARS
    We are not asking you to stop making Kashmir noise
    we are not asking you to stop sending some more gangsters into India.

    Are you ready to provide some service to your POPULATION.


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