Short supply from Iran behind outages in Balochistan: minister

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar said on Thursday the government has taken up with Iran the issue of reduced electricity supply from the neighbouring country, which is causing hours-long outages in Balochistan.

“Power shortfalls in Iran have led to loadshedding in our Gwadar, Turbat and Makran regions. These areas are not connected to the national grid and are dependent on Iranian power supply,” he said on Twitter, adding that Islamabad has requested Tehran to normalise power supply to the affected areas of Balochistan.

Pakistan imports electricity from Iran for its bordering districts, although the share of imported power in the total electricity consumed in Pakistan is miniscule. The recent drop in supply from Iran is because of a shortage of hydel power generation in the neighbouring country, said an energy expert based in Quetta.

Pakistan imported 514GWh from Iran in 2019-20, which was less than 0.4 per cent of the country’s total electricity generation in the year, according to the power regulator.

Work is also in progress on connecting these areas with the national grid. This involves laying transmission lines for hundreds of kilometres. This project will be completed within two years Insha Allah,” Mr Azhar said.

Speaking to Dawn, independent energy consultant Najam ul Hassan Farooqi said the recurring problem can only be solved once the 300MW imported coal-based power plant currently under construction in Gwadar comes online. “It’ll take at least three years to set up a 700-kilometre transmission line from Gwadar to Karachi,” he added.

Power cuts in Quetta

Outages in Balochistan aren’t limited to the bordering areas that receive electricity from Iran. Residents of the provincial capital are also facing power cuts of up to 12 hours each day.

Quetta Cantt is experiencing six hours of loadshedding while the adjoining agricultural areas are experiencing outages of 14 hours on a daily basis. Fruit production in orchards around Quetta has dropped owing to extended power cuts and voltage fluctuations that affect tube wells.

One of the major reasons is the “procedural delay” in the allocation of gas to Habibullah Coastal Power, a 140MW gas-based power plant located near Quetta. The only power plant in the area sufficient to meet the local demand stopped producing electricity in September 2019 when its gas supply agreement with the government-owned Sui Southern Gas Company expired after 20 years.

The company’s power purchase agreement, however, is valid until 2029. Its validity was pegged with the reallocation of gas. The plant has been shut for 21 months as the formal summary has yet to be moved to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) for the allocation of gas.

The energy ministry has indicated that it will supply a blend of local and imported gas to the power plant. The company has offered the government that it’ll let go its capacity charge for the three winter months when gas availability is limited. In addition, the federal government is dragging its feet on the proposal by a Kuwaiti investment fund that wants to set up a 100MW solar project near Quetta at just 3.72 cents per kWh.

A complete strike was observed in the port city of Gwadar and other areas of the coastal district on Thursday against power outage, which the people of Makran division have been facing for over a month, added Behram Baloch. The call for the strike was given by leaders of the National Party. Because of the strike, offices of all banks and private businesses remained closed.

Shops and markets were already closed in the port city due to a lockdown imposed by the local administration in view of the rising cases of Delta variant of Covid-19 in the division. The district headquarters and other towns of Panjgur and Kech districts have been under a lockdown for the last one week.

Many people, including women and children, gathered on the roads of Gwadar in protest against the outage. They blocked the Coastal Highway that links the port city with the rest of the country, suspending traffic between Gwadar and Karachi.

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