Punjab’s energy problem

Published: February 13, 2015
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The writer is a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame in the United States

The writer is a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame in the United States

There is almost no solution to Punjab’s energy problem which does not depend on Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah being driven out of office and being replaced by somebody who is at least vaguely competent. This is why, no matter how hard Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif try — and they are not trying at all — they are unlikely to be able to solve the problem in Punjab.

Here is what it all boils down to: of the four main types of electricity generation that are viable in Pakistan — hydroelectric power, oil-fired thermal, natural gas or coal — Punjab neither has the necessary fuel nor can it obtain it in an economically viable manner. In short, Punjab is, for the moment, dependent on the mercy of other provinces for its energy sources, and on Sindh more than most others. Unfortunately for Punjab, Sindh has a government so thoroughly disinterested in governing that I hesitate to call it incompetent for fear of giving incompetent people a bad name.

Let us take a look at each of the options available and why they might not work for Punjab. For hydroelectric power, Punjab simply does not have enough places to be able to build dams for the kind of large power plants that would fulfil its needs. Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity is an option, but in a province so densely populated, it is unlikely that there will be enough places in Punjab to install the kind of capacity needed to supply its needs.

Oil-fired power is quite obviously a no-go for Punjab, as it is for any other part of Pakistan, on account of its high cost of production. Punjab already has nearly 7,000MW of installed capacity for power plants that run both on oil and natural gas, and the government does not run them largely due to the fact that it would massively run up the subsidy bill.

Coal is an option that has been presented as a possible solution to Punjab’s woes. Unfortunately for Punjab, the only feasible way to transport coal is through rail, and the utter inability of Pakistan Railways to get anything done is an inviolable assumption that one must make when analysing the Pakistani economy. So any coal — whether it be imported or mined at Thar — cannot economically be transported to power plants in Punjab.

That leaves only one option: natural gas. And here is where the Sindh problem comes to the fore.

Over 70 per cent of natural gas in Pakistan is produced in Sindh, and the Constitution gives the province the right of first use. The PPP-led government in the province has taken that to mean that it can do whatever it wants with the natural gas it has and that it does not have to answer to anybody about it. Hence, the Sui Southern Gas Company handed out new gas connections all over Sindh during the PPP’s last term in office in the province. Much of the gas being provided to those new connections was stolen, resulting in higher losses on the national gas grid.

Now, a reasonable person might assume that Sindh might be persuaded to give up some of its gas to Punjab in exchange for concessions on other fronts. But that would imply that the Sindh government is interested in accomplishing anything at all, which is an assumption not supported by any evidence thus far. And so, while the country might have just enough gas to run power plants in Punjab, that gas — unfortunately — is being mostly wasted in Sindh either through outright theft or because it is being sold at outrageously low prices to consumers who use it wastefully.

There is, of course, one last option that just might work, but only because it bypasses the Sindh government completely. The cheapest way to transport fuel is not through rail, but by converting it into electricity and sending it across the transmission grid. If the Hub Power Company and K-Electric are able to install enough coal-fired power plants in Karachi and Hub, they would eventually be able to produce enough cheap electricity to be able to sell it to Punjab.

Unfortunately, that is a project that would take five years or more to implement. In theory, by that time, Sindh could get a better chief minister. But since when have we had that kind of luck?

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Atheist_Pakistani
    Feb 13, 2015 - 7:39AM

    I really enjoy reading your articles, well done Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 13, 2015 - 3:47PM

    Author has been distorting facts for several weeks.

    Punjab has Kalabagh dam site for Hydro Electric generation enough for itself but thanks to Sindhis, they would not let Punjab build that.

    Karachi or Sindh can’t expect to get free electricity at the expense of whole Pakistan.Recommend

  • Woz Ahmed
    Feb 13, 2015 - 7:13PM

    Punjab is robbing the rest of the nation.

    Either create mini equal Provinces or go your own way.

    Chinese dropped Gadari power plants to supply Punjab, what will they stop next ?Recommend

  • Grace
    Feb 13, 2015 - 11:49PM

    @Woz Ahmed: Si if people in Punjab work and build the country, they are bad? Working and making things like in Industrial parts of Sialkot , Gujranwala etc is robbing? You want them to do nothing and just wait for hand outs like others? I am sure Punjab will sort out energy problem by working hard. It’s called the “Punjabi work ethic” and it is known all over the work that Punjabi people work hard. You should try it too.Recommend

  • Ali S
    Feb 14, 2015 - 12:13AM

    @Ali:

    K-Electric is doing a wonderful job in Karachi – most bill paying middle-class areas are exempt from loadshedding, no thanks to any govt, it’s because it’s a private company which doesn’t have separate policies for influential customers. Nawaz would rather have his province go into an energy deficit than face the ‘shame’ of asking his industrialist friends to pay for non-subsidized energy.

    While I agree that Punjab shouldn’t suffer because of the Sindh govt’s slumber, neither should Karachi – K-Electric’s successful model should be promoted and emulated rather than punished.Recommend

  • SM
    Feb 14, 2015 - 1:29AM

    Stop polarizing the nation Tirmizi unless you are on an agenda to destroy Pakistan. We have to think as one.Recommend

  • Ammar
    Feb 14, 2015 - 1:30AM

    @Author

    I agree a bit to your point of view… Coal fired plants must be installed on mouth of coal mines in Thar…

    For Punjab…Be careful before commenting anything out of context. ..we have been suffering for the last 15 years…our industry has suffered a lot…20+ hrs of loadshedding…

    But…we are the ones giving our electricity bills…gas bills…our water rights…(Not stealing it like others)

    And yes we are the ones being killed in other provinces due to such misinformation spread by pseudo intellectuals…

    I saw in your previous article about 650MW of electricity provided to KE…Yes it has been provided on the expense of Punjab…because KE had an agreement with Federal Govt to produce the electricity out of its own resources. ..

    Get your facts right…and dont spread hate…Recommend

  • Gp65
    Feb 14, 2015 - 2:46AM

    “Punjab already has nearly 7,000MW of installed capacity for power plants that run both on oil and natural gas, and the government does not run them largely due to the fact that it would massively run up the subsidy bill.”

    I can understand not building new oil fired plants. But to not use the existing capacity of 7000 MW at a time when oil is really quite cheap is absurd.

    Also you are not considering solar energy for some reason.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Feb 14, 2015 - 1:15PM

    Increasing production capacity is useless unless the transmission and distribution system is upgraded to take the load.Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 14, 2015 - 3:04PM

    @Ali S:

    Please check at what rate KE is provided electricity and whats the rate for Punjab per unit that is.

    also, check, what’s the collection rate and line losses in Karachi.

    Also, how much KE owes to Govt for gas and electricity bill.

    KE is not efficient, it was stealing (thanks to zardari) using the so called contract that has expired now. it is getting cheap electricity from National Grid and not paying to PEPCO.

    Also, KE is in private hands. All other DISCOS are govt owned. These private pp, are robing not only Punjab but whole of Pak and benefiting karachi ppl a bit in the process using them as bait.

    I could provide you ll the numbers But i c;ant be bothered right now due to my work. I wud not have commented in the first place but when I look at this author face and what he writes every week, lies and total fabrication of facts, I just could not stop myself this time.

    Come out of this sindhi punjabi thing. pay for the utility that you use at the same rate whole country is paying and then come back and tell us how good KE is running Karachi.Recommend

  • Blah
    Feb 18, 2015 - 10:41AM

    I think the only difference between Karachi and Punjab is that KE is a private company doing a good job in the most difficult city. They have reduced thefts, line losses and load shedding. Punjab gov should either have the guts to privatize lesco or to efficiently run all the power plant in Punjab w/o interference from ministers like Abid Sherali etc who are here only to fill their pockets. There are also couple of IPPs in Punjab which have been shut since 2 years due to gov’s unreasonable demands and negligence. Recommend

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