LAHORE – Polluted environment is emerging as a serious threat for the sustainability of country’s electricity transmission system at a time when government is all set to add some 5,000MW in the energy basket till end of next year.

Though experts have already questioned the strength of the decades old transmission system to bear the additional load government is planning to add in national grid, the top official of the company in-charge of national transmission system believes pollution is main challenge for country’s electricity infrastructure.

Punjab’s capital and other main cities of the province on Friday faced a major shutdown of more than 10 hours when a transmission line in Lahore area tripped due to heavy smog. Freezing of dust and smoke particles on electricity insulators installed on electricity wires had caused tripping at a transmission line and its cascade effects later spread in main transmission system.The Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco), the company responsible for electricity distribution in Lahore, Sheikhupura, Okara and Kasur districts, and the National Transmission and Dispatch Company had pointed out the location of tripping on each other’s system after long hours shutdown.

NTDC Managing Director Dr Fiaz Ahmad Chaudhary, however, sees things in wide perspective though computerised timing shows the fault actually occurred in Lesco system.

He believes the government and people of Pakistan will have to be concerned about environment and it does not matter where tripping occurred since both the NTDC and Lesco are state owned companies.

“We need to address the main cause which is environmental pollution,” he said during an interaction with journalists at Wapda House yesterday.

Dr Fiaz pointed out the weaknesses of transmission system which had been designed decades ago by not keeping in mind the pollution level which the country was facing currently.

“The insulators installed on transmission wires of the Pakistan’s power distribution companies and main NTDC have not the capacity to bear the current pollution.

“We have two choices: Either to replace the entire transmission system with hundreds of billions investment or to do efforts to keep clean our environment,” said Dr Fiaz who had vast experience of serving in electricity sectors of Saudi Arabia and Canada and recently appointed to look after the affairs of national transmission system by NTDC BoD.

The increase in number of insulators on wires is not solution of problem as it would ultimately demands the replacing of the electric poles and wires, he said, explaining the simplest solution was to keep clean environment. He cited example of presence of hundreds o brick kiln along with 500 transmission lines between Dadu and Multan, saying the smoke from the kilns could anytime collapse the transmission system.

The current electricity installed capacity is around 20,000MW with total 75 generation projects established in 70 years. The government has planned some 50 power generation projects for future generation and 25 among them are expected to be completed in next two to three years with around 10,000MW capacity. The NTDC was given responsibility to connect the proposed projects with national grid. Experts say the current transmission system is fragile enough to bear this load and needed to be revamped. A recent report of Nepra, country’s power regulator, also pointed out fragile transmission system, their load position and system constraints.

Dr Fiaz said his team was doing relentless efforts for strengthening current system and installing the new lines with lot of challenges the NTDC facing especially in shape of shortage of staff, financial constraints and delay in procurements of equipments in presence of PPRA rules.

“We have to connect 26 small and big power plants with national grid till end of next year. It is a great challenge for us in current scenario. I have also decided to have meeting with PPRA to seek some relaxation in procurement rules as the delay in procurements equipments can cause in delay of connection of plants.”

To a question, he said the NTDC and Discos needed to up-grade maintenance of transmission system and modern equipment were required for the purpose.

“We now seek electricity shut down for maintenance work and we need to replace it with live line capacity,” he explained.