Chronic problem of power outages
The Power Division has claimed that Rs. 93. 5 billion have been spent over the past five years to improve the power transmission and distribution and distribution network that could not bear the electricity load. But still frequent power break downs occur and there is no reduction in the load shedding of longer duration despite the increase in power generation capacity. According to a presentation given by Power Division up gradation and rehabilitation work has been completed on 748 km transmission lines of four500 KV grid station (megavolt ampere MVA) and 13 grid stations of 220 KV(10, 219 MWA) and 2293 km transmission lines. The transmission network is spread over 5772 km and 10523 km for 500 KV and 220 KV grid stations.
The claim of power division runs contrary to the ground realities. A partial system breakdown had occurred on May 16, 2018 in the wake of failure of reactor at Gudu power plant and the system was split between North and South. Later the system was stabilized but again broke down due to early outages of recently commissioned liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plants at Haveli Bahdur Shah and Bhiki in the central region. Another breakdown had occurred on May 21 after 500 KV and 220 KV auto-transformers at Rawat grid stations stopped working which was followed by cascade tripping. The system tripped when generation at Tarbella and Mangla hydel power stations stood low and Nandipur thermal power plant was shut down for maintenance which excessively increased the load on Rawat grid station.
The power transmission system is 45 years old and utter neglect of its up- gradation has rendered it dilapidated. The obsolete and worn out transmission and control structure is causing frequent power outages by tripping in grid stations. The caretaker federal minster for energy Barister Ali Zafar said in press conference that apart from other factors, it is also the weak power transmission and distribution system that is causing load shedding. The electricity generation is higher but the transmission and distribution system is not able to pick it.The Minster disclosed the power plants can generate 21000 to 22000 megawatt at present and minimum demand of electricity is 23000 to 24000 megawatt, registering a gap of 2000 megawatt.
The PML-N government adopted a policy not to provide electricity to areas where power theft and line losses were high but even then most of the grid stations get frequently tripped due to system overload and imbalance. The government could not get the promised amount of investment for the improvement of electricity transmission network under the much touted and eulogized CPEC frame work. The Mitiari-Lahore transmission line project remained a non-starter. The Economic Coordination Committee in meeting on 27th April again gave seven month extension to Chinese Company for starting of work on this $ 1.7 billion power transmission project.
The extension in the deadline was given to achieve the financial close for the construction of 660 kilovolt high voltage direct current Mitiari-Lahore transmission line scheme till December 2018. The project faced trouble since the beginning. At the time of Chinese President Xi Jing Ping visit to Pakistan it ws decided that the project would be made operational by September 2017, while the financial close had been scheduled for December 2015. It has now been deferred to the end of current Calendar year. The revised data is three years behind the original schedule.
As a desperate move, the government had to knock at the door of World Bank (WB) for piecemeal improvement and up-gradation of transmission and distribution system. However, due to a delay in the bureaucratic procedures, six months after its approval the WB on Wednesday signed a $ 425 million loan agreement for upgrading the faulty power transmission system. In sharp contrast to the high interest bearing short-term Chinese commercial loans under CPEC, the WB commercial loans have been acquired with low interest rate and fairly long returning period of 21 years including a grace period of six years.
The loans will be spent on modernizing the national transmission network by rehabilitating the 500 kilovolt and 220 kilovolt substations and transmission lines. The existing power transmission system has the capacity to carry about 15000to 17000 megawatt of electricity which is substantially lower than the peak load of 21000-23000 megawatt. The objective of the project is to increase the load carrying capacity and reliability of selected segments of the national transmission system and modernize key business process of National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NDTC).
Aging and inadequate transmission and distribution system has exacerbated the problem of power outages. The WB has rightly assessed that Pakistan’s recent efforts had been focused on increasing power generation capacity, but aging and unreliable transmission and distribution system imposed sever constraints. There have been several instances of major system collapses which appear to increasing either because of system overloading or inherent imbalances in it. The power transmission and control system urgently needs thorough modernization.
The project will support investment in high priority transmission infrastructure, information and communication technology (ICT) and technical assistance for improved management and operation. The total cost of the project is $ 536.33 million. The WB will provide $ 425 million whereas the remaining $ 111.33 million will be arranged by NDTC. After completion of this project, a target of three fourth reductions in forced outages and 50 percent reduction in frequency of forced outages will be achieved. About 131 kilometer long transmission lines are planned to be rehabilitated and 36 new substations will be constructed. It reveals that billions of dollars investment will be required for power transmission and distribution network to solve the problem of power outages in the country once and for all.