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We could do well with importing electricity through transmission

Suleman Najib Khan, engineer, energy expert and business entrepreneur

The News on Sunday: What are some of the domestic reasons of the acute power shortage which has become the bone of contention among the provinces?

Suleman Najib Khan: When there is poverty and misgovernance, this is bound to happen. More misgovernance means more challenges, more mismanagement, more difficulties and more threats. Today, we have the highest line losses to just cover the theft. We have around 29 per cent average line losses which is perhaps the highest in the world. Technical line losses must not be more than six per cent. We lose much power in this way which further increases the poverty circle and adds to the consumers’ frustration and mistrust. If we do not use water, whatever the reason, we are in for very serious governance problems. Water is our only natural endowment. And, for oil we have to spend money which raises inflation and affects the economy badly. Unless new technology comes in, we shall continue to suffer.

TNS: How do you see the grievances of the Punjab province in terms of getting its share of electricity and load shedding?

SNK: I have to say this is unjustified. This is also mainly because of water distribution system. Only one man from Sindh is controlling the whole water system. The entire Indus River System Authority (IRSA) and Indus Water Commission strings are being pulled from Sindh that does not allow its canals to be operated.

Punjab cannot get its share of water. Sindh wants to keep Mangla only for Punjab which is inadequate for the province. Sindh has the upper hand today.

Also, Punjab, through Wapda, is being forced to give 700MW to Karachi Electricity Supply Corporation (KESC), which is absolutely unfair. KESC is a private entity. There is ten times more load shedding in Punjab compared to Sindh.

Moreover, there are hydropower sites in Punjab, but Punjab is not allowed to develop them because of the water distribution system controlled by Sindh. Even Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is not allowed to build dams. Punjab is getting much less share of water. Also, naturally, when the population is huge and the demand is big, Punjab will have to face more load shedding. Punjab is getting per capita electricity less than it deserves.

TNS: Do you think the permission to generate electricity after 18th Amendment shall provide relief to the provinces in the future?

SNK: This is an important issue, but the provinces may not be able to produce electricity in high volumes. If you look closely into the 18th Amendment, you will come to know that this is still a federal subject. Unless we build large dams we have no hope. Let us be honest about it. Punjab’s is the worst case.

If we are not going to generate 30,000MW in the coming years, we will fail to meet the future needs. We were told that we should achieve the 100,000MW target by 2030, but it seems there is no way we can do that. We don’t have a resource base. Wapda has been destroyed as a unitary group; it has no money or sources to raise the money in the international financial market. Besides, Wapda cannot execute any large project on its own, even though it is capable of it. Independent Power Producers (IPPs) are also beginning to see the reality. They know that oil is unaffordable and that we are destroying our gas sources. They can think of hydro projects but for that water should be a federal subject and if it is provincial it should be in public sector. Water cannot be privatised.

TNS: If you were to suggest any long-term or short-term solutions to keep the federating units intact while coping with this energy crisis, what would you say?

SNK: Unfortunately, there can be no short-term solution. It’s a huge infrastructural issue that cannot be resolved in a couple of years. The only thing we can do is have an equitable electricity distribution and load shedding. There is no other solution.

Even the import of electricity from neighbours is not possible in the next two or three years. However, we could do well with importing electricity through transmission system instead of importing oil or using gas. And, we must also build our large multi-purpose dams. If we do not go for that, the federation will collapse under poverty and stress. If we are not able to generate low cost power for our federating units, the energy crisis will destroy the country. It is such a vital issue.

My fear is that if we fail to resolve the energy crisis in the next, say, four to five years, the federation will cease to exist. The federating units will break away. Industry has started shifting already. It will go to India, Bangladesh and maybe Afghanistan. There will be brain drain and more poverty as youth starts to leave the country. There will also be lot of crime.

— Waqar Gillani

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