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Editorial

August 13, 2017

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Whither power?

Whither power?

Unscheduled power outages have become a norm since April this year. The change of leadership at the helm of government has only produced a much worse situation as the power shortfall hit 5,000MW    on Tuesday and exceeded that too later in the week. Transmission lines continued to trip as the capital city and adjoining Rawalpindi were amongst the cities left without power for hours at length. The electoral promise of the PML-N to eliminate power outages by 2018 has not been met and it remains to be seen how the voter responds to its failure to keep its word. The reality, of course, was that the PML-N only ever had temporary fixes to the power situation. Even now, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has ordered an expedition of new power projects but the problem of the cost of electricity that the government purchases from private power producers remains unsolved. A number of the new power plants, including Haveli Bahadur Shah, Bhikki and Sahiwal continue to remain erratic suppliers, unable to solve technical problems in their production systems. The chances of Abbasi succeeding where party leader Nawaz Sharif failed are slim, but the challenge is one that the new PM will have to accept to steer the party through what will be a challenging few months before the next election.

The electorate did not forget the misery caused by power outages when it went to the polls in 2013. The PPP was thoroughly ousted from power. Abbasi’s current focus on ensuring the completion of new infrastructure projects ignores expert opinion, which sees spiraling circular debt as a more serious problem. This week, Pepco issued a statement claiming that circular debt had hit Rs800 billion, which is higher than the circular debt that the PML-N inherited from the PPP government. This is despite the benefit of oil prices being almost half of what they used to be. The increase in circular debt has grown in the last few months, with almost Rs185 billion of the increase coming in the last one year alone, although consumers are being charged Rs6 per unit more than the tariffs determined by Nepra. Circular debt has been the key issue to resolve in the power sector. No solution to it has been considered seriously enough. Consumers continued to be overcharged for an even more sparse supply of electricity. The reliance on re-financing of power sector debt and parking it in multiple places is only a temporary solution that can reduce power outages in the short-term but leaves a spiraling amount of debt that will eventually lead to a full-blown crisis. The need for serious solutions to our power-sector problems is obvious if the PML-N wants to avoid a repeat of the last election.

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