Lights out

April 22, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Four days of brainstorming has the government coming up with a plan it claims will cut the duration of power outages by at least one-third.

The government hopes to save some 500 megawatts of power a day with a mix of power generation and conservation measures. The energy summit was chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and attended by the chief ministers of the four provinces as well as Water and Power minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. The premier said these actions would help overcome unscheduled power outages.

The announced measures include the adoption of two-day weekends by public offices till end July, the closure of commercial markets at sunset, plans for industrial units to take alternate days off so that load can be better managed and a 50 per cent reduction in consumption in all government buildings including the presidential palace and the prime minister house. Besides this, the government has committed to repay Rs116 billion of the circular debt plaguing the system and to monitor the receivables of the sector so that such debts aren’t allowed to pile up. Significantly for Karachi, there are also plans to divert 350 MW from the Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) to other areas, so the burden of outages may be shared more equitably.

Gilani said sub-committees constituted at the energy summit have targeted four areas to recommend measures for the immediate, short-, mediumand long-term. According to Gilani, shortterm plans to generate power include the addition of 300 MWs by making 10 IPPs operational while another 1,300 MWs would be added to the system by the end of year. The controversial Rental Power Projects are expected to contribute over 600 MWs once they come online. Long-term measures include plans to generate 21,000 MW from hydel sources, 30,000 MW from coal and 15,000 MWs through other means, in order to meet the future energy needs of the country.

The prime minister said progress on the implementation of the measures would be reviewed every fortnight and also announced the setting up of a Public Sector Energy Development Fund with Rs 20 billion. The official plan – the government’s first step to arrest the downslide of the country’s power sector – comes at the time public protests against outages look poised to turn into full-blown riots. At present, Pakistan is short of some 5,000 MW and with summer around the corner, this figure is likely to go up.

But the conservation plans are meeting resistance. Traders’ unions in Karachi have threatened to go on strike if they are forced to close shop at 8 p.m. while those in Lahore have rejected the move outright