Yet another PML-N project
Of all the projects initiated by the PML-N government, in terms of its long term effect, the 1200 MW coal fired power station at Sahiwal has to be the most egregious. This project does not make economic sense and will in the long term adversely damage the environment in one of the most fertile area in the country. In addition it will unnecessarily burden the main railway line to transport all the coal from Karachi to Sahiwal, and will be sensitive to any depreciation of the rupee given that it is based on imported.
Coal power plants are among the largest emitters of anthropogenic (man-made) deleterious emissions in the world. In an hour a 1,200 MW coal power plant typically emits over 1,200 kg of Carbon-dioxide gas, 9 kg of Nitrous oxide, 5 kg of Sulphur Oxide, in addition to mercury and lead. Both of these metals enter water bodies and food chain with long term effects. Given that the Lower Bari Doab Canal is flowing right next to the power station, it is fair to assume the deposition from the emission will fall onto the canal and its effect will be felt as far a Khanewal district. Coal emissions and fly ash are responsible for arsenic and lead permeating into groundwater seriously damaging the quality of aquifers which supply drinking and irrigation water
Carbon dioxide is heavier than air. Thus the CO2 tends to sink to the ground and stays there. This in turn impacts the leaves on the plants, according to Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology, “Plants take CO2 out of the atmosphere but they also have other effects such as changing the amount of evaporation from land surface”.
Plants act as giant air conditioners by giving off water through tiny pores called stomata while in daylight converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process called photosynthesis, the water is a byproduct and is released through evapotranspiration cooling the entire area around it. But when carbon dioxide levels are high, the leaf pores shrink, this causes less water to be released diminishing the plants health and its cooling power.
“The warming effects of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas have been known for a long time” says Ken Caldeira of Carnegie, but he and fellow scientists also warn about the long term effect of elevated CO2 levels on the plants’ health, in addition by reducing the plants cooling power it would cause significant localised warming even of CO2 was not a greenhouse gas.
The area of influence is still being studies but scientist estimate that a radius of as much as 20 km could be affected, so in case of Sahiwal power station it could affect an area from Okara Cantonment to Sahiwal city, over a period of time the plants in this entire area would be damaged. Other than being extremely fertile, this area is the most significant diary production area in the whole country and hundreds of thousands, livelihood depends on this.
Economically also this plant does not make any sense either, a coal power plant typically burns almost 540 kg of coal/ MWhr. Today the current price of coal in the international market is around $110 / tonne, add the cost of transporting this to Karachi and then up country to Sahiwal and you will end up with a cost of approximately $ 140/ tonne. So the fuel cost per MWhr of a coal based plant is approx. $76/ MWhr or approx. Rs 8/ unit, with a total cost (including capital costs) of around Rs 10.5/ unit. Compare this with the cost for a combined cycle furnace oil based unit such as the one in Kot Addu where fuel cost is around Rs 5.5 / unit (Rs 8/ unit in total), or even the expensive LNG gas fired units where the fuel cost is around Rs 5.6/ unit (Rs 8.1/ unit in total).
So the question is: why is this government, bent on laying waste to one of the most fertile areas in the country to produce power that is 40% more expensive than its imported thermal fuel alternatives?
In India the government intends to install 100,000 MW of solar based power plant, as a result the power tariffs for solar there have slumped and currently in the state of Rajasthan, the solar power tariffs (including capital cost) are being bid at 4 Indian Rupee or 7 Pakistan rupee/ unit. Other tenders included Indian Rupee 4.63 or Pakistan Rupee 7.4/ unit. Solar energy is environmentally friendly, can be priced in Rupees and for countries like Pakistan is the future.
I understand that the coal will be imported from Indonesia, so next time the Prime Minister gets into hot waters with the Supreme Court, don’t be surprised if a defense supplication is received from Indonesia.