Faulty planning in power sector to deepen environmental woes

Civil society activists have demanded the establishment of a parliamentary commission to investigate the failures of planning and regulatory processes aimed at making the power sector technically efficient, financially sustainable and responsive to the imperatives of climate change.

They criticised the ‘misplaced’ priorities set in the Integrated Generation Capacity Enhancement Plan (IGCEP)-2047 and Competitive Trading Bilateral Contract Market (CTBCM) reforms. They were addressing an online press conference organised by the Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy on Friday.

Despite the coal moratorium announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan in December 2020, they said, the rising share of coal power in national energy mix under the IGCEP-2047 did not make any sense.

Owing to the opaque, arbitrary and exclusionary nature of the decision-making processes in the power sector, power plans such as the IGCEP-2047 have ended up being least sensitive to the needs of end-consumers. These plans affected communities, were too ambitious in forecasting electricity demand, were riddled with flawed economic reasoning and reckless in prioritising dirty fossil-fuels, particularly coal-based power in the national energy mix.

The CTBCM reforms though well intentioned, might lead to more of the same, as they ignore the interests of regular consumers while favouring corporate and industrial entities, they said.

Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairperson of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, said the rising share of indigenous coal as envisioned under IGCEP-2047 would exacerbate the existing social, economic and environmental problems being faced by the local people of Thar due to ongoing projects of coal mining and thermal power plants in the area.

“Forcible land acquisition for coal power projects has already turned the life of Tharis into a living hell, imposing involuntary displacement on them, robbing them of their gowchar, common grazing land—crucial to their livelihood – and exposing them to groundwater contamination and numerous diseases induced by the air pollution caused by ever-increasing number of coal power plants in the region,” he said.

He criticised the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) for not accounting for social and environmental costs of ongoing coal power projects while setting the priority to enhance the use of indigenous coal under IGCEP-2047.

Haneea Isaad, Research Associate at Rural Development Policy Institute (RDPI), said the end-consumers and the communities adversely impacted by power projects had invariably been given lowest priority in the power sector’s plans.

“Therefore, they had never benefited from any such plans, be it the power purchase agreements with Independent Power Producers (IPPs), long-term capacity expansion planning or setting up wholesale markets through the CTBCM mechanism.”

She said considering indigenous coal as cheaper source of energy without ascertaining the economic value of the social and environmental externalities induced by it was nothing but a myth. To lower the overall basket price of electricity, she urged the authorities concerned to prioritise cost-effective and environment-friendly resources such as solar and wind power plants into the country’s generation mix.

Zain Moulvi, Legal and Policy Analyst at the Alternative Law Collective (ALC) said the mishandling of the IPPs’ issue, the controversies around the IGCEP-2047, and the limitations of the CTBCM market reform plans all pointed to misplaced priorities and systemic shortcomings in the planning and regulatory processes.

He said there was an urgent need to restructure this process to better reflect the principles of democratic consultation and sustainable development. “Reforms must take an integrated approach that is responsive to the long-term needs of the affected communities and the average citizen to ensure that the future of the power sector was based on economically, environmentally, and socially responsible policy-making,” he concluded.

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