Two crises


Gas and power

When it rains, it pours. The readers should brace themselves for two varieties of load shedding. First, gas and now, electric power. The former was but expected; winters are, after all, a heavy strain on our natural gas resources. Electric power load shedding, however, is usually an exclusively summer time affair. Things are different this winter because an estimated 3000 MW of our hydroelectric generation is to be lost on account of canal desilting. As per policy (and a correct policy at that) in matters of conflict between irrigation and power issues, the former is given a higher priority.

First, the gas shortage. This government should have gotten its act together and tried to solve the problem on a war footing. It didn’t. First, the ministry was a victim of coalition politics, with the PML(N)’s Khwaja Asif getting the portfolio. Then the portfolio changed a couple of hands, once Dr Asim Hussein’s as well, who now has it again. The minister seems to speak sense when he explains how remedial steps on the gas front are going to be spread out over a period of time; there is no magic wand. True, but the PPP government should have started the process long ago.

To cut the incumbents some slack, however, it has to be noted that this was a crisis waiting to happen, one that had started since much before this government. Promoting a reliance on CNG in the transport sector was a much lauded idea. Now it seems not much thought had been put into planning it out. Given the finite gas supply that we have, the media unreasonably decries both the staggered closure of CNG pumps as well as domestic gas load shedding, a problematic and ill-informed position. The LPG and LNG sectors also exacerbate the problem.

The gas shortage also limits our gas-run power plants, with which we segue into the power crisis: the interlocking mesh of circular debt between the IPPs, the government GenCos, the DisCos, the oil marketing companies and all the rest is a huge problem. Rising international prices of oil should spur a rationalisation of power tariffs, something we haven’t seen enough of.

Both the crises can be solved by similar steps. The initiation of new projects – like the TAPI or even IPI gas pipelines and new relatively small hydel power plants; throwing money at the power sector’s debt chasm; a rationalization of all tariffs in all sectors and last but certainly not the least, restructuring along the lines of conservation and sustainability.