Power outages to continue through summer

Energy minister says inevitable for government to increase power tariff and petrol prices

Energy Minister Engineer Khurram Dastagir Khan on Monday hinted at an increase in electricity and petrol prices, saying it had become inevitable under the prevailing circumstances.

Talking to journalists during his maiden visit to Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO) head office in Lahore after taking charge of the ministry, he also negated the chance of complete elimination of load shedding during ongoing summer season. He said the government would make the decision on raising power tariff and petrol prices after consultation with the allies.

The former government had frozen the electricity rates and announced decrease in POL prices days before its ouster through a no-confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan, inviting criticism from the IMF. The global lender, however, asked the new government to reverse that decision, linking the release of seventh installment to the rise in POL and electricity prices along with other tough measures.

Accusing Imran Khan government of bringing disaster to the economy and destroying the energy sector, Dastagir said the masses might face the load shedding in the coming months but the government would end it gradually. When the PML-N government tenure ended in 2018 the circular debt of power sector was one trillion and 60 billion rupees, which reached to two trillion and 460 billion in four years of PTI, he said, adding that the former government had intentionally created loadshedding issue before being ousted.

On April 26, he said, the electricity shortfall was 7,000MW due to the closure of different power plants. His ministry, he said, brought online some power plants, added 2,500MW to the system and brought the gap to zero during Eid vacations. He claimed there was no load shedding in the country these days except some feeders where the line losses were high.

Quick actions over complaints of consumers and provision of full safety and security to electricity workers would remain the top priority of the ministry, Dastagir said, adding he had directed the LESCO management to ensure recovery of dues from defaulters. He also directed the distribution company to install modern meters in its limits to get rid of the overbilling and theft issue.

LESCO CEO Muhammad Amin earlier briefed the minister about the company matters. Meanwhile, the minister also visited National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) headquarters at WAPDA House, Lahore. Managing Director NTDC, Engr Manzoor Ahmad, gave a detailed presentation on the overview of NTDC, progress of ongoing projects while Additional Secretary (Power Division), Musaddiq Ahmed Khan Tahirkheli, and Joint Secretary (Transmission), Ahmad Taimoor Nasir, thoroughly briefed the minister regarding projects and other major interventions.

During the briefing, it was apprised that NTDC operates as a reliable transmission system and recorded maximum generation of 24,566MW during 2021. This transformation capacity is being enhanced through augmentation of existing transformers and addition of new transformers as well as through new grid station and transmission line projects across the country. Recently, NTDC has completed 23 projects of transmission lines and grid stations, including 500kV grid station Faisalabad West and 220kV grid station Jhimpir-II. As many as 51 projects of worth $2081.868 million (approx.) are at different stages of development, funded by different donor agencies and through NTDC’s own resources.

While updating about system constraints removal plan 2022, NTDC MD said that out of the total 14 projects, nine have already been completed while remaining five have achieved considerable progress and their completion is targeted by end of this month.

Iftikhar Alam is a correspondent writing on religion, politics, agriculture, and energy. He takes people on a rich journey through the culture of Punjab. He tweets @imiftikharalam and can be reached at iftikharalam@live.com.