Winter is over and summer is well on its way, bringing with it deep anxiety over the lack of electricity available. With the constant running of fans and as air conditioner bills become obnoxious, this year will be no exception.  The Sharif government’s policy space is decreasing due to the expansion of the military operations since July last year. Power and energy is one of the few issues the government has left in its hands. If power shortages bring large numbers of people onto the streets, the military may lean on Sharif to call early elections. PTI and PAT dharnas last year brought the country to a stand still, and the protests were not focused on one key issue. This is the issue that can rally the masses yet again. People are not intimidated by summer heat anymore; they will come out and speak out.
The situation in January was horrible with fuel shortages caused by the Power and Water Ministry’s failure to pay its Rs. 171 billion outstanding debt to the Pakistan State Oil Company. That too, at a time when fuel prices were at an all time low! In the same month the government shut down 6,600 MW coal-powered projects in Gadani in Balochistan. Chinese investors pulled out of the six plants – part of the US$45.6 billion worth of energy and infrastructure deals dubbed the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor – as they felt that the project was unrealisable due to the lack of existing infrastructure in the area. This is what happens when a resource rich province is left undeveloped and neglected.
In February, work on another 6600 MW of Chinese-backed coal powered projects in Punjab stopped. The 963 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric project in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, expected to be completed in 2016, will be delayed due to a shortage of Rs 50 billion owed to the Chinese. The proposed gas pipeline with Iran lacked funding too and we lack the technological capacity to exploit coal reserves. With regards to renewable energy, there are major regulatory obstacles. The National Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) has put a 5% cap on the maximum generational capacity from alternate energy sources.
It is all too little too late, and its may also be for those in power. We are heading towards a harsh summer, and politics and protests during the summer are a sure thing. If Pakistan had built three or four big dams, all its energy woes would be over.