Sunday February 05, 2023

Power outages

By Editorial Board
June 10, 2021

Once again the sweltering summer is upon us, and once more the country is experiencing severe power outages. These outages — affecting both rural and urban areas — have become the biggest drain on people’s energy and productivity. This reduced productivity in turn affects the national exchequer and public purse alike. Successive governments have been unable to turn around the power sector on a sustainable basis and the people of Pakistan are the ones who keep suffering at the hands of the national power-sector managers. After 74 years of independence, if we are unable to solve such a basic problem of providing uninterrupted electricity to all our citizens, it should be treated as a national disgrace. This summer the temperature has already crossed the 46 degrees Celsius mark in some cities and in many others 40 degrees will be a recurring temperature for the rest of this scorching season.

There are multiple root causes of this problem that need remedial actions. Perhaps the most significant of them is the issue of circular debt that continues to build on. Then there are stubborn system losses. The aggregate losses have been fluctuating between 20 and 25 percent and at times they look like a black hole as they translate into billions of rupees in revenue loss per year. Moreover, the government has been imposing repeated tariff increases that have an add-on impact on consumers especially from lower-income groups and domestic users. Electricity sales rates have seen a nearly 50 percent increase per unit from the rates of 2017. The overall circular debt has increased from Rs1.1 trillion in June 2018 to around Rs2 trillion rupees within two years. A 70-80 percent jump in circular debt has been staring the power-sector regulators in the face.

It appears that the government in its three years in power has not been able to do much to alleviate the power woes of the people of this country. Average transmission and distribution (T&D) losses have to be tackled so that these summer months do not become unbearable for citizens. These losses contribute to the overall unmanageable circular debt. Though they have been fluctuating, their impact has been relentless on consumers who have been paying enormous bills but don’t get the service and supply they demand and deserve. Raising power rates is not an advisable solution, no matter what the IMF says. Then there is the issue of unreliable data in the official domain as opposed to the data from the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra). Such discrepancies bring the authenticity of power-sector data into question. The people of this country deserve a better deal by the power sector of Pakistan. The government must ensure an uninterrupted power supply throughout this summer, and of course after that.