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Thar at the coalface of the energy crisis

With the government planning on shifting to coal as the major power generation resource, for which three IPPs at Guddu, Jamshoro and Muzaffargarh are being shifted to coal, the only question that remains is which coal would be thrown in the energy mix. It has been reported that ADB – that has agreed to splurge $1.4 billion to finance the power plants’ conversion to coal – wants Pakistan to use imported coal in lieu of Thar coal, which is why the bank has refused to fund the conversion of the three aforementioned IPPs. While some coal would have to be imported to cater to the needs of the power plants that the ADB is funding, the coal-rich reservoirs in Thar should still be the go-to play for the current government as far as solving the energy crisis is concerned, especially now that the government has earmarked coal over oil and gas as the principal resource.

Thar coalfield – the world’s sixth largest coal reserves, spread over 9,000 square kilometres with around 175 billion tonnes of coal that has 28 percent carbon and 11.5 thousand BTU – can singlehandedly solve Pakistan’s energy crisis. While the previous PPP-led government’s indolence on the energy pronged was multi-pronged, its idleness with regards to the Thar coal power project was among the most noteworthy of its dillydallying manoeuvres. Now with some leading companies showing interest in the Thar Coal Power Project, it’s time we accepted Thar coal as being the coalface of the energy crisis. If the current government is actually interested in working at the coalface and is planning on walking the walk and not just talking the talk with regards to dragging the country out of the energy fix, it would have to put Thar at the forefront of their plans.

According to Samar Mubarakmand, the head of the Thar Coal Project, the power project can generate 50,000 MW of electricity and 100 million barrels of diesels every year, on its own. And while ADB’s conditions necessitate the import of coal – one kg of which would produce electricity at a rate of Rs 12 per unit – Pakistan would have to dig deep into the Thar reservoir to extricate long term hope with regards to overcoming the power predicament. The National Power Policy, encouraging the creation of energy cities and coal corridors, bodes well for the future of power generation; even so, Pakistan cannot afford to ignore its own rich resources, and hence should look towards wooing foreign investment that would help excavate said resources.

Even though Thar is the principal protagonist of this coal-laden power script, what we must realise is that Pakistan has coal all over the place, so to speak. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 129 billion tonnes of coal reserves; Balochistan has 270 billion; Punjab 235 billion and Sindh 186 billion tonnes of coal lying in the wait.

You don’t have to be an energy expert to know that Pakistan has the solution of its energy troubles underneath its soil and the only thing that has exacerbated the power crisis has been procrastination by various governments. Be it construction of dams, going ahead with pipeline projects or merely encouraging investment to dig out the solution that now the whole country is hankering after. While the pipelines continue being marred by global politics and dams by domestic politics, we would have to unearth the answer to the energy question from our own soil. And with coal being identified as the answer, Thar now is indubitably at the coalface of the energy crisis.

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