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June 15, 2021

Power problems

 
June 15, 2021

How do we reconcile consistent electricity shortages with claims by the government that Pakistan has surplus generation capacity? Perhaps, we cannot. When the demand peaks in summer, every year, forced power cuts are inflicted upon consumers in both rural and urban areas of the country. Sudden blackouts become a norm and in most cases you don’t know the duration of such outages. At times, the electricity disappears immediately after a resumption in power supply, and then you are condemned to another long spell of suffering in the sweltering heat. There has been no letup in this practice despite the claims of the current government to have improved the power situation in the country. Repeated changes in the power-management team have only served as a temporary diversion of attention from the previous to new individuals who bring in a fresh set of explanations and promises.

Everyone knows that the demand for electricity increases in the summer, so using it as a pretext appears to be a lame excuse. If there is a reduced supply, again it is no excuse because it goes in contravention to what the government claims about surplus capacity. If the national grid is giving some additional electricity to Karachi or to any other city, the people have a right to ask where it is actually going – as Karachi keeps suffering the same. Finally, if there is not enough gas for RLNG-based generation of power, the government is responsible for making sure that the LNG storage infrastructure is improved, and no pipeline constraints are cited as the reason for power outages. The same applies to the coal supply to power plants that depend on uninterrupted provision of coal. A lineup of government advisers and assistants and ministers cannot and should not try to hide the gross mismanagement of the power sector in the country.

It is essentially the government’s responsibility to keep an eye on the supply chain management and maintenance of the sources of electricity. Whether they are coal-based or RLNG-fired, public or privately controlled, all come under the ultimate purview of the government and no diversion of blame is acceptable in this crisis. Hydropower dams are no different and need continuous – not continual – maintenance. That fossil fuel also needs extra storage capacity is not a secret. The government should have arranged for emergency fuel supplies in case there is a disruption. The country desperately needs better governance in the power sector, which can happen only when there are sweeping reforms that are both institutional and structural. Transmission and distribution losses have become a perennial problem that require enhanced networks. It is these problems the government needs to focus on so that people receive the power they need, and we do not hear stories of children fainting in schools because they were left without power in the scorching heat for hours.