KARACHI - The government Saturday decided to gradually shift oil-based power plants to Thar coal.

This was decided in the 15th meeting of Thar Coal and Energy Board which was held at Chief Minister House under the chairmanship of Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.

The water and power ministry federal secretary, member of planning commission and provincial ministers attended the meeting. The meeting was informed that conversion of the power plants, working under IPPs and GENCOs to coal would provide much-needed energy security to the country and subsequently save foreign exchange by reducing the import bill. In this regard, it was stressed in the meeting to ensure that the project sponsors design boilers of oil-based power plants compatible with the specifications of Thar coal.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company CEO Shamsuddin Shaikh also supported this plan. He said existing power plants with the capacity of 5500 MW could be converted to coal.

The chief minister speaking on the occasion said that the government was fully committed to development of Thar coal which had the potential of turning the country’s economy around. Thar coal resources can be used for power generation, chemical production and other uses and has the potential of providing energy security to the country.

He stressed that the work on project should be accelerated for the benefit of the people. Mohammad Sohail Rajput, Secretary Coal and Energy Development Department, GoS/Managing Director Thar Coal and Energy Board briefed that the Sindh government is attaching high priority to the infrastructure development required for coal mining and power generation projects at Thar.

He said the Sindh government had allocated Rs8.5billion in the current financial year for schemes of improvement of roads, water supply and disposal of waste water from Thar Coalfield and construction of airport.

Water and Power Secretary Zafar Mehmood assured the Board that the government would issue a policy guideline to all stakeholders and a policy would be formulated so that the retrofitting of oil-based power plants should be done in such a manner that those plants should also be compatible with the specifications of Thar coal.

He further informed that National Transmission and Dispatch Company had prepared the PC-I for evacuation of power from Thar to Matiari at a cost of Rs22 billion. The Planning Commission has recommended the scheme for approval of the Executive Committee of Nation Economic Council after confirmation of source of financing. He said that many international donor agencies had taken interest in this scheme and it would be taken to ECNEC for approval.

Shahid Sattar, Member (Energy) Planning Commission said the Thar-Matiari transmission line project was very critical for development of Thar Coal and assured full support of the Planning Commission.

Sindh Coal and Energy Development Secretary Sohail Rajput said presently there are three project sponsors working in Blocks – I, II and VI of Thar Coalfield. Immediate measures are needed for approval of ECNEC and arranging financing so that the project developers are facilitated.

Global Mining of China Director Sheharyar Chishti gave progress update on their coal mining project at Block-I of Thar Coalfield and said they will start mine development activities on sustainable basis from October, 2012 and would be producing coal in commercial quantities through open pit mining by first quarter of 2015.

Shahrukh Khan, CEO Oracle Coalfields, UK also briefed the forum about present status of their project at Block-VI and said pre-development ground activities have already been started. He assured that they would start mine development within first quarter of 2013 and would start coal production by 2014. He further informed that Oracle Coalfields UK signed a Joint Development Agreement with Karachi Electric Supply Company on June 25, 2012 for establishing 300 MW power plant in the first phase which would be subsequently increased to 1,100 MW. The work on community and social Responsibility (CSR) has also been planned to commence by August 2012 which would be part of a long-term sustainable development for local communities and includes job creation and training for local workforce, establishing a medical centre, provision of clean water and electricity to local communities, veterinary services for the health of livestock for the community and sanitation.

Dr Samar Mubarakmand, Member (Science & Technology) Planning Commission also gave update progress on their Underground Coal Gasification pilot project at Block-V of Thar Coalfield. He said test burn was ignited on December11, 2011 and presently syn-gas is being produced which can support 8-10 MW power plant. The Planning Commission has decided to provide funding for 8-10 MW power plant based on UCG during current financial year.

The chief minister also constituted a committee of consultants that will submit its report for LBOD water desalination as early as possible.