And broken promises
That the PML-N government despite its tall claims will be unable to end load shedding by March 2018 is a now a fore gone conclusion, despite the 10,000 MW of extra power generation projects that are under construction, few of them will actually be on stream by then. Based on the recently published NEPRA report, the construction of transmission lines that were to evacuate this extra capacity are behind schedule. So, even if by some miracle, these plants are commissioned, the power cannot not reach the consumers.
Based on the NEPRA website currently (excluding K Electric) the power generation capacity is approximately 23,000 MW- in the winter due to a decrease in water levels in dams this decreases to approx. 19,000 MW, while the transmission capacity is approximately 17,250 MW. While the winter demand is in the region of 23,000 MW, of this approx. 2,500 MW are inefficient Chinese and Russian units at Jamshoro and Muzaffargarh. So how will this shortfall of 5,000 MW be covered in sixteen months time?
To date other than the controversial Nandirpur project and the second unit Chasma nuclear plant, no other power project has been commissioned. Although more than a dozen are under various stages of construction which even if completed shall still require extensive commissioning, organising of fuel, transmission lines and upgrading the distribution system
It appears almost as if the government was only interested in building the generating capacity without visualising what else in entails to bring power to the homes and ending load shedding. Focusing on the most capital intensive part of the chain was correct but it also betrays that the government by making tall claims in many ways painted itself into a corner that was not easy to escape from.
To get electric power from the power station to the consumer involves three main steps, generation where the electricity is generated, transmission (two stages Extra High voltage e.g. 500 kV or 220 kV and High voltage 132 kV) and distribution 11 kV and 440 V low voltage distribution. All this also requires sophisticated process control to ensure that it is properly monitored and faults if any are being detected and addressed before any harm is done. Another important aspect is ensuring system redundancy or having sufficient back up to overcome any equipment breakdown.
To give them credit, the PML-N government unlike their two predecessors, at the outset acknowledged that if the energy issue were to be solved, it would require drastic action and serious commitment, which to their credit they did. With the top leadership prioritising the efforts to increase the capacity. However they let themselves down over two points, firstly unnecessarily bluster that tried to convince the electorate that all the power issues will be solved, and secondly an extremely short term approach whereby there was no vision as to what the long term implications were and why the entire program intensity should be reduced to ensure that at least what is being delivered is robust and sustainable.
Let us not forget the famous IPP of the second PPP era whereby in a reaction to energy shortages launches into a massive IPP program with catastrophic results later on once the rupee depreciated and the price of furnace oil increased, leading to a double blow and unaffordable energy prices.
Unfortunately the PML-N government launched on exactly the same short term plan with reliance on imported thermal fuel. This will leave the country vulnerable if either the rupee depreciates or if the price of oil (as the LNG contract is linked to the price of oil) increases. So no action on lessons learnt which one would have expected to avoid repeating the same errors.
So given that the available supply and distribution capacity is still constrained more or less at today’s generation and transmission capacity while the demand has increased, the only option still open for the government to reduce load shedding in the domestic sector just before the elections is the old trick of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
At present there is limited load shedding on the industrial grid, so the probable option that the government will adopt is to increase load shedding for industries and divert that power to the domestic consumers. While forcing those industries that can afford it to generate their own power using expensive re-gasified LNG, as the industrialist will still vote for PML-N anyway, the vote bank is secured and PML-N can look forward to another five years in power.