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Karachi braves the heat

The K-Electric (KE) faces a crisis-like situation as the mercury touches 40 degrees centigrade and demand for electricity rises in Karachi. Who is responsible for prolonged loadshedding?

Karachi braves the heat

With the intervention by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the power crisis in Karachi has subsided to some extent early this week. But traders and industrialists are still dissatisfied with the power supply situation and many of them decry frequent power outages in the main commercial centres. They say their businesses have been severely hit for the last three weeks due to power crisis, virtually crippling economic activities in the city. Citizens in many areas are still facing long power outages in this hot weather.

The K-Electric (KE), however, claims restoration of normal electricity supply to all residential, commercial and industrial customers since April 23. Many industrialists, however, have rejected the claims.

“Both the KE and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) are responsible for the current crisis and the city has suffered huge economic losses due to power breakdowns,” said Majyd Aziz, President Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP).

According to him it is estimated that during the three weeks’ power crisis, the city has suffered an economic loss of over Rs37 billion. Karachi Industrial Forum, a representative body of the city’s all industrial areas, had also estimated such a huge loss. The industrialists of Karachi have appealed to the federal and provincial governments to provide uninterrupted basic utilities like power, water and gas in order to save the industries, exports, foreign exchange earnings, employment and economy from complete collapse.

The situation in many areas of Karachi, which had already been declared loadshedding-free, has improved. A K-Electric spokesperson says there is no load-shedding in those areas.

Local faults may cause power outages in some areas, otherwise, the power situation has normalised in the city. “There is still loadshedding in areas where consumers use Kunda for power theft and this scheduled loadshedding is as per power policy of the government,” says Sadia Dada, a spokesperson for the KE.

A series of protest demonstrations were staged across the city this month against prolonged loadshedding in the sweltering weather. The mainstream political parties like MQM-Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami, PTI and Pak Sarzamin Party also mobilised their workers to lodge protests.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had convened a high level meeting of KE and SSGC on April 8 to resolve the power crisis, but that meeting remained unfruitful.

The K-Electric ‎Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Syed Fakhar Ahmed, said the generation capacity has remained impaired because of cut in gas supply from the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) in March. “The KE needs 190 MMCFD gas supply for power generation to meet the demand.”

Students preparing for secondary school examinations suffered the most, whereas hospitals’ functions were hampered. The water supply system in the city was also disturbed due to power breakdowns.

He dispelled the notion the KE only relies on Sui gas and saves money by not utilising the generation capacity of the units running on furnace oil. “All our units on furnace oil remained operational even during the crisis days,” he added.

On the other hand, the gas utility SSGC’s management has its own complaints against the KE. The SSGC management claimed the K-Electric owes billions of rupees in dues. Consumers and industries also criticised the SSGC for its equal contribution to the power crisis. Initially, the SSGC issued a contradictory statement saying it is not receiving gas from fields that is why gas supply to the KE is reduced. But later the SSGC changed its stance saying the KE is not clearing its dues accumulated for a long period so it has cut the gas supply to the power utility.

The tussle between the two main utilities has caused discomfort and financial losses to the citizens. A similar situation had also occurred in 2015 during the month of Ramazan when over 2,000 people had lost lives because of a severe heat wave and prolonged power outages. The power regulator National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) had issued a show-cause notice to the KE management over prolonged loadshedding.

Every year as the mercury touches 40 degree centigrade, demand for electricity rises and the KE faces the same crisis-like situation. The KE resorts to loadshedding when it fails to meet the excessive demand.

This year too, when the city’s temperature rose to 40 degree centigrade in the last week of March, the overloaded electricity system collapsed due to heavy usage of air-conditioners, refrigerators and other electric appliances. The unscheduled load-shedding coupled with increase in number of technical faults in supply of electricity again created a crisis-like situation.

Students preparing for secondary school examinations suffered the most, whereas hospitals’ functions were hampered. The water supply system in the city was also disturbed due to power breakdowns.

Consumers allege the SSGC had tried to take benefit of the situation and stopped the supply of gas to the privatised KE to recover its dues. The SSGC spokesman claims an accumulated outstanding amount of Rs80 billion against the KE, whereas the KE accepts responsibility for only Rs13.5 billion outstanding dues.

“After the meeting with the prime minister, the KE has released Rs7 billion against three months advance payment to SSGC,” said Shahbaz Islam, a spokesman for the SSGC. He said the accounts staff of both the companies are sitting together to settle all the outstanding disputes. “Currently there is no General Sales Agreement (GSA) between the KE and the SSGC, so the SSGC is preparing to sign a GSA with KE.”

Meanwhile, a five-member NEPRA team had visited the K-Electric offices and inspected the main power generation plants and grid stations from April 11 to 13. According to a NEPRA report, the team tried to look at the period between March 27, 2018 to April 10, 2018. During that period, the report states, the KE’s Bin Qasim Power Station (BQPS)-I remained underutilised — it could have been operated at full capacity to minimise loadshedding. The committee further noted that average loading position of BQPS-I was only 647 MW against the available capacity of 1015 MW. Similarly, the NEPRA also noted that Unit No. 2 of BQPS-I with available capacity of 180 was not working since September, 2017 which indicated the KE’s poor maintenance capacity.

The NEPRA has asked the government to increase gas supply to KE to 190 million cubic feet per day.

Shujauddin Qureshi

shujauddin qureshi copy
The author is a senior journalist, currently working as development communication professional in Karachi.

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