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September 25, 2020

Citizens, businesses suffer immensely as electricity crisis worsens in Karachi

Karachi

September 25, 2020

The massive electricity crisis has crippled life in Karachi, where hours-long announced and unannounced loadshedding has increased despite the K-Electric’s fresh promises that it would stop altogether.

While a few areas are witnessing 10 to 12 hours of power outages, other areas are suffering power cuts lasting up to 18 hours a day. The crisis has worsened since the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) held a public hearing on Monday to deliberate on proposed changes in the terms of the KE’s power distribution licence.

The hearing was set to decide whether the sole power distribution company would remain sole power distributer or the regulatory authority should amend the laws to allow competition in the electricity business.

According to the KE, a low gas pressure is adversely affecting its power generation capability. The gas supply is getting worse in the province as the shortfall has increased to 150 million cubic feet from 120 million cubic feet, and the situation could deteriorate this winter.

The Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) has already asked the power utility and other stakeholders which seek gas from the company to opt for alternative power generation options as the shortfall could double in winter by up to 300 million cubic feet.

The exclusivity clause

While the KE attributes the power outages to a shortfall in the gas supply to its plants, it seems to have confused the institutions on its exclusivity clause.

Earlier, it was reported to have said that it did not mind competition, as, thanks to its heavy investments in the power plants, it could not be defeated in case of other entrants competing in the market. However, the company, apparently in a bid to maintain its monopoly, warned Nepra of legal consequences and in fact claimed that it would move international courts if the exclusivety clause was amended.

The mixed responses from the power distributor seem to give the impression that while it has failed terribly, as the courts have repeatedly noted, to deliver on its duty, it is desperate to avoid a situation where a new prospective entrant could perform better rendering it a failure.

Business life

Speaking to The News, All Karachi Tajir Ittehad Chairman Atiq Mir said 70-per cent of the city’s business life had been crippled due to intermittent and massive power outages, “People don’t visit markets when there’s no power,” he said. “Without moving fans, trading is impossible.”

Mir likened the KE situation to that of 15 years back, when an extremely massive crisis had engulfed the entire port city. As for Nepra’s public hearing, he said, it was nothing but a tug of war and a bid to woo the public in Nepra’s favour. Despite the chief justice’s several notices, he said, the performance of the power utility was continuously deteriorating. “We don’t know if this is being done willingly or unwillingly,” he said.

A former president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, Siraj Qasim, said the real problem was of gas. “While the KE said that they are not getting gas for power generation, the SSGC is saying that they aren’t getting gas from gas fields,” he said, adding that the entire gas distribution had been dysfunctional, and now the businesses were massively suffering in the city.

Karachi electronic dealers association’s president Muhammad Rizwan Irfan believes that the government wants traders and public to come out onto roads.

“More than 50 per cent of our business activities are being affected due to the power crisis,” he said, adding that out of nine hours of trading, they did not have power for more than four hours at their shops. “If this is due to the gas crisis, we fear what will happen in winter.”

Irfan stressed that their expenditure had increased by 20 to 25 per cent due to the maintenance of generators and petrol. “Never have we seen a decline in our KE bills after such massive loadshedding,” he said.

Schools

Schools on the other hand are in a fix, as they have reopened after almost seven months, with no power supply during school hours.

The chairman of the Pakistan Private School Association, Parvez Haroon, shared with The News how schools had been facing intermittent power outages ever since they reopened on September 15.

“We are asked about SOPs, tell me how we can make students wear mask in such hot weather with no fans moving,” he said, adding that the KE had no sensitivity to the matter. As for the financial conditions of the schools, he said they were already very much in debt of millions of rupees and now it was not possible for small schools to have generators.

“We request the KE CEO to see us. We will ask them not to have loadshedding during school hours.”

Citizens

Meanwhile, citizens complained of braving the power crisis of more than 12 hours a day. In Gulstan-e-Jauhar’s Block, 12 there hadn’t been any power from 4am to 8m on Thursday. “It was an unannounced power outage. We were told that there was some sort of maintenance,” said a resident, Adeel Qureshi.

In the wee hours of Thursday, many areas of the city, including DHA, Clifton, Korangi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, PECHS, North Karachi, New Karachi, Nazimabad and North Nazimabad, plunged into darkness. “If there’s a power crisis, the load management could be done during day hours, so that we could at least sleep in peace,” said a resident of North Karachi, Hasban Rizvi.

SSGC’s explanation

The SSGC, in its press statement, has stressed that there is no gas loadshedding in its franchise areas.

“Instead a low-pressure situation has been created due to diminishing gas supplies from different gas fields owned by E&P companies. Currently, the SSGC faces a shortfall of 150 mmcfd gas as a result of which the company’s line pack system has been effected. The SSGC is therefore following the government’s gas load management plan whereby the company is giving first preference in the supply of gas to the domestic sector.”

The Sinjhoro and Zarghun gas fields are undergoing annual turnaround right now, and a number of other gas fields too are injecting reduced gas into the SSGC’s system. Hence, there are complaints of low gas pressure from the customers.

“Despite the grave situation, the SSGC continues to provide KE with 190 to 200 mmcfd gas so that the people of Karachi do not face power outages for long.”

KE apologises

The KE’s spokesperson apologised to the people of Karachi for loadshedding. The power utility clarified that out of their five power plants, only one functions with furnace oil while the rest run on gas. The real problem, according to the spokesperson, is of gas pressure, which is very low.

“While we are getting the required gas volume from the SSGC, the required pressure is very low. At least, our two power plants are unable to function, due to which we are facing a 250 to-300 megawatt shortfall,” the spokesperson said.