Thar coal project to prove ‘game-changer’ with $6bn savings in fuel imports: PM Shehbaz

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday said that amid the skyrocketing fuel prices, cheaper energy production from Thar coal mines project would prove a “game-changer” for the development of the entire country.

Addressing the inauguration of the commercial operations of Phase-II of Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) during his visit to Thar Coal Mines Block-II, the prime minister said the project was “high on the agenda” for the government in view of the reduced cost it would provide for power generation.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, government ministers, senior officials and representatives of Chinese companies were also present at the ceremony.

The Thar coal project, PM Shehbaz said, could help the government save up to $6 billion as the expenditure on the import of energy, including petrol and liquid petroleum, had touched $24bn.

The prime minister on the occasion inaugurated a 330-megawatt (MW) power plant of Thar Energy Limited (TEL) and also inspected the construction site of SECMC Mine Phase-II in Islamkot.

PM Shehbaz said not benefitting from the country’s indigenous coal reserves was a “massive mistake” and announced plans to convene a meeting of stakeholders on Thar coal mines next week to discuss formalities.

He said the federal government, in collaboration with the Sindh government, would chalk out a policy framework on the Thar coal mines project with an objective to connect it with other coal-powered power plants in the country producing 4,000MW.

He said the international cost of coal had come down from $67 to $44 and could further plummet to $30.

The coal-powered plants, he said, would prove a feasible operation for electricity production at the rate of Rs10 per unit.

The prime minister said the Thar coal project would save the country’s foreign exchange and help the national economy thrive.

He added that by March 2023, the project would be connected through a freight rail track for the transportation of coal to other parts of the country.

He lauded the Sindh government, Hub Power Company, China’s government and Chinese companies for training local professionals and workers, and also appreciated the women working in the field, including at water plants and dumping trucks.

Shehbaz expressed satisfaction that Thar was undergoing rapid development after former prime minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto first visited the area in 1996 and envisioned a prosperity plan for the locals.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that Thar once used to be known for malnutrition, and high infant and maternal mortality rates, but had now emerged as a “game changer and a model of public-private partnership of development”.

He mentioned that the Thar coal mines project had contributed to the provision of job opportunities to locals, thus improving their lifestyles.

Bilawal said under public-private partnership projects, the barren desert of Thar was now witnessing crop irrigation and fish breeding even with the use of hard water.

The foreign minister stressed replicating collaborative projects in other parts of the country and expressed confidence that the prime minister with his inspiring “Shehbaz speed” would materialise the development plans rapidly.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said that had the work on Thar coal not stalled since the first mining of its reserves in 1991, the project would have produced 10,000MW.

He called Sindh as the “energy basket of Pakistan”, with immense potential for natural energy resources, including solar and wind energy.

Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong congratulated the government on the successful completion of the project and lauded PM Shehbaz for his “consistent devotion and firm support” in strengthening Pakistan-China cooperation, including in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects.

He hoped that the new power block would help overcome energy shortage and provide reliable and affordable electricity.

The envoy thanked the Pakistan Army for providing foolproof security to Chinese professionals working in the country.

As an “iron brother”, he said China would be “happy to continue assisting Pakistan to help it achieve prosperity”.

CM Shah also presented samples of indigenous Thar coal to PM Shehbaz, FM Bilawal and the Chinese envoy.

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