After the water and power ministry publicly declared its inability to honour the prime minister’s commitment of zero power outages during critical times in Ramazan, Nawaz Sharif reportedly grilled Water and Power Secretary Younas Dagha and ordered him to address the outages that have caused widespread protests in the country.
Meanwhile, protests against frequent, long-hours power outages continued unabated, especially in southern and central districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where incensed protesters clashed with riot police when they attempted to damage the offices of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).
On Thursday, the Cabinet Committee on Energy, chaired by the prime minister, announced that all domestic consumers would be provided uninterrupted power supply one hour before and after Sehr and between 6:30 pm and 10:30 pm to cover Iftar and Taraweeh times. By Friday morning, however, the water and power ministry announced that the national grid had been overwhelmed by demand and that it would be unable to honour the cabinet’s commitment, leading to protests in some parts of the country. On Saturday, Secretary Dagha was summoned to the prime minister’s office where he submitted a report on why the ministry was struggling with electricity demand.
The report stated that the national grid was able to provide uninterrupted power to domestic consumers during critical times in 75 to 80% of the country on the first day of Ramazan. However, some parts of the country, which fall under the service areas of the state-owed where Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) and Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco), faced some outages, which caused a large number of people there to lodge complaints.
The problem appears to be the massive heat wave that has seen temperatures skyrocket to above 40 degrees Celsius in many parts of the country over the past three days. In addition, the times that the cabinet ordered for there to be zero power outages are also the times with peak demand, even after shutting off power to the entire industrial sector of the economy. As a result, peak demand has soared to 21,000MW, while supply has barely managed to reach 16,000MW.
While the national grid has a theoretical capacity to produce just over 23,500MW, some of the largest state-owned power plants are effectively dysfunctional, resulting in actual production capacity at 17,500MW. Power generation on Saturday stood at 14,700MW compared to a demand of 19,200MW, said ministry officials, adding that demand went down largely because the weather improved. Another 900MW of power was added to the system after more water was released by the government from the two large dams in the country.
Meanwhile, the water and power ministry issued a statement on Saturday, claiming the improvement was due to their efforts.
“We have been able to improve the electricity supply situation and 93% of urban and 86% of rural areas have been provided uninterrupted electricity for the last Iftar, Taraweeh and Sehr times as announced by the ministry,” said the statement.
The ministry had also inaccurately claimed that it was able to achieve a 16,000MW power generation level for the first time in Pakistani history. However, government officials point out that the Zardari administration was able to exceed 16,100MW during its tenure.
In addition, management of the state-owned segments of the energy sector appears to have gotten worse under the Nawaz administration. In some areas, “the recovery of electricity bills in the PPP government has been near 100% but has come down to 87% in the current government,” said one official.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2015.