THARPARKAR - As the first coal power plant would start generating 660 MW of electricity by the first quarter of 2018, the 175 billion tones of ‘black gold’ floating over water underneath the soil in Tharparkar district of Sindh has the potential to meet the country’s energy needs for next 4,375 years.

Being the 7th largest coal reserves in the world, Thar coal’s power-generation capacity is even more than the combined oil potential of Saudi Arabia and Iran. It can meet the country’s energy needs for next 4,375 years.

This was divulged by Project Manager, Mining, Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), Ahmad Naeem Aftab Pasha in a briefing to a group of visiting journalists from Lahore.

The mining experts, he said, have divided the Thar coal reserves in 12 blocks and Block-2 with 2 billion tons of coal has been allocated to SECMC for mining. It has the potential to generate 4,000 MW of electricity for next 50 years, he said.

Also called Lignite in technical jargon, the quality of this coal has been rated as ‘medium” in comparison to other lignite reserves in terms of heating value, presence of sulphur and moisture.

Talking about the environmental impact of the coal plants to be installed in Tharparkar, the project manager told journalists that Thar coal had only one per cent of sulphur content compared to seven per cent found in coal reserves of Indian Gujrat, generating power from this coal since 20 years.

According to him, the first coal-powered electricity plant would start generating power by first quarter of 2018 and per unit cost of this electricity for the consumers would not be more than Rs11. He hoped that power transmission line will be ready before power generation as 660 MW of electricity would be added to the national grid.

To a question, Mr Pasha said that de-watering remained the major challenge before the mining experts as the Thar coal was floating over two tables of water beneath the earth at different levels. “The first water table is 70 meters below the soil while the second one comes after 120 meters” he informed, adding that 26 heavy-duty water pumps would be installed to pump out water before pulling out the coal. The water so pumped out would be reused for cooling of power plant and agriculture purpose, he added.

Answering another question, he said that open pit method would be used to take out the coal. He also said that the method suggested by noted scientist Dr Samar Mubarak Mand was not cost-effective, and has been abandoned due to this reason.  

Giving more details about the mining project, Naeem said that SECMC was a joint venture between Government of Sindh (51 per cent) and ENGRO (49 per cent). This company started mining activities at Thar Block-2 in June 2014.

He further informed that out of total project cost of $2 billion, $1.5 billion was being financed by China, while the rest of the cost would be shared by the shareholders equity in mining and power plant. Financial closure of project is expected in June 2015 and after that Chinese Company, CMEC will start activities for coal mining, he said.

When asked about job creation as a result of this project, he said the project would also generate jobs for 3,500 skilled and semi-skilled people. The land owners, he said, were being paid compensation at the rate of Rs180,000 per acre.

Senator Taj Haider, who was present during the briefing, alleged that the country would not have been facing power shortage at the moment had Nawaz Sharif not stopped execution of Keti Bandar Coal Power project with capacity to generate 5000 MW of electricity in 1997.

He also alleged that the federal government seemed unwilling to lay 130 KM railway line from Umer Kot (Chorr) to Islamkot in Thar to supply coal to rest of the country.