Saturday June 15, 2024

Rethinking GB’s energy

By Amir Hussain
February 11, 2023

The energy predicament in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), characterized by frequent power outages and inadequate voltage supply, poses a significant challenge for its people. Rampant corruption and political nepotism, however, hinder progress towards harnessing the abundant hydroelectric potential of the region and exacerbate the crisis.

The correlation between contractors and political elites plays a crucial role in perpetuating the current issues as the allocation of energy-project contracts is influenced by political connections instead of expertise and proficiency. This results in insufficient energy infrastructure, poor administration and the misuse of public resources.

The lack of transparency in the contract awarding process, in conjunction with the absence of effective governance structures, provides ample opportunities for corruption to flourish, resulting in the collusion of officials and contractors to inflate project costs, skim funds and engage in other corrupt practices. The political elite, often benefactors of corruption in the energy sector, do not take meaningful action, perpetuating the crisis and impacting the local population, particularly those relying on electricity for their livelihoods.

Political regimes in GB have consistently demonstrated a parasitic tendency to extract subsidies for necessities such as wheat and other commodities. However, the omission of demands for investments in significant hydropower ventures is rooted in a complex web of relationships between the self-serving local political elite, their collusive contractors, and the complicit local administration.

The establishment of such a formidable alliance allows them to operate in secrecy and exploit the situation for their own financial gain. The presence of outside investment companies in the energy sector threatens to disrupt this entrenched system by shining light on the corrupt practices of these influential actors, ultimately putting an end to their unchecked avarice.

To effectively combat the nefarious tactic of perpetuating the energy crisis, a comprehensive strategy is essential, comprising reforms in the procurement process, enhanced governance frameworks and robust anti-corruption measures. By addressing corruption, the region can overcome the energy challenge and secure a brighter future for its citizens.

Also, the GB government should mirror the approach of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) by engaging the federal government to serve as a guarantor for potential hydropower investors in GB, thereby unlocking the full potential of its vast untapped renewable energy resources.

The federal government of Pakistan holds a vital role in the power sector, specifically in the generation and distribution of electricity to the provinces including GB and AJK. The federal government formulates policies and regulations to ensure the efficacy of the power sector and manages the allocation of electricity to various regions across the country. Pakistan’s power generation sources are diverse, incorporating hydropower, coal, natural gas, and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Pakistan has the installed power generation capacity of 38,000MW, with the majority of power being generated from thermal sources such as coal and natural gas.

The federal government manages the energy mix, setting targets for the growth of renewable energy sources and allocating funds for power generation expansion. The federal government also plays a significant role in the distribution of electricity to the provinces and regions. The National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC), which operates as the national power distribution company, is responsible for transmitting electricity from power generation plants to distribution companies in various regions, including AJK. The government regulates the tariffs charged by distribution companies to guarantee affordability and sustainability for consumers.

The federal government has implemented various measures to enhance the power sector in Pakistan, including establishing a regulatory framework, constructing new transmission lines and expanding the national power grid. The implementation of these initiatives has facilitated greater access to electricity, transcending the conventional objections related to the disputed nature in the case of AJK, thereby fostering investment in the hydropower sector and ensuring smooth transmission to the regional grid even in the most remote areas of AJK.

The Pakistan government has also strengthened its commitment to supporting the growth of the energy sector in AJK with an emphasis on hydropower. This has increased energy security, encouraged sustainability, and increased revenue generation through the use of clean and renewable energy sources, promoting self-reliance in AJK

According to the Ministry of Energy, the federal government has approved guarantees for 10 hydropower projects with a total capacity of over 1,000MW. These projects are expected to generate approximately 4,000GWh of electricity annually, significantly increasing energy availability in the region. The federal government has also provided support through tax incentives, subsidies, and low-interest loans to encourage hydropower development and private investment. These efforts have led to the growth of new hydropower projects. The impact of these initiatives is evident in the substantial increase in hydropower generation in AJK, with hydropower now accounting for 44 per cent of the region’s total electricity production in 2022, compared to only 25 per cent in 2015. This increase in hydropower generation strengthens energy security in AJK and reduces dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions

The AJK government has, in turn, implemented a range of measures to address energy challenges in the region and improve access to and distribution of energy. The ultimate goal of these policies is to increase electricity production and distribution, reduce transmission and distribution losses, and ensure energy access for all residents. A key initiative is the AJK Renewable Energy Policy of 2019, which aims to promote the use of sustainable energy sources such as hydro, wind, and solar. The policy encourages investment in renewable energy and provides tax incentives and subsidies for renewable energy developers. Another notable effort is the AJK Energy Efficiency and Conservation Policy of 2020, which aims to advance energy-efficient technologies and reduce energy waste. This policy incentivizes the adoption of energy-efficient appliances and technologies and requires new buildings to be constructed with energy-efficient materials and systems.

The power generation landscape in GB is characterized by significant deficiencies, owing to the corrupt practices of the political elite. This situation is perpetuated through the preservation of a rudimentary power generation system, which serves as a means to generate illicit financial gains. As per Ministry of Energy data, the power distribution network in GB had an installed capacity of 270MW, while the network in AJK had a capacity of 1,144MW in 2022.

It is imperative to depart from the age-old discourse that the contentious status of GB acts as an obstacle to the advancement of its hydropower sector, as this only serves as a guide for corrupt practices, insufficient institutional capabilities and calculated efforts to sustain the state of darkness for short-term personal gains by a select few.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

He tweets @AmirHussain76