LAHORE - Polluted environment is emerging as a serious threat to sustainability of country’s electricity transmission system at a time when government is all set to add 5,000MW to its energy basket by next year.

Although experts have already questioned the capacity of the decades old system to bear the additional load, the top boss of national transmission system believes that pollution remains the biggest challenge to the country’s electricity infrastructure.

Punjab’s capital including the main cities faced 10-hour blackout last week when a transmission line in Lahore area tripped because of smog which engulfed the province for over a week.  

Freezing of dust and smoke particles on electricity insulators of wires had caused tripping at a transmission line and its cascade effects later spread in main transmission system.

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 indulged in blame game pointing out the tripping point on each other’s system.

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

He asserted that the government and people of Pakistan should have to be concerned about environment and it did not matter where the tripping had occurred since both the NTDC and Lesco belonged to the state.

“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 without considering pollution peril.

“The insulators installed on transmission wires of the Pakistan’s power distribution companies and main NTDC did not have 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 has vast experience of serving in electricity sectors of Saudi Arabia and Canada. He was recently appointed to look after the affairs of national transmission system by NTDC BoD.

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

The current installed capacity of electricity 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 the 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 by installing new lines. He said he was facing a lot of challenges especially in the 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 meetings 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 upgrade 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.