ISLAMABAD - The summer has not fully started yet but the electricity loadshedding duration has reached up to 12 hours in different parts of the country, while the Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif on Friday prepared the nation for hours-long blackouts, just like previous years.

It is end of the April and mercury is still not touched its peak in many areas of the country, but the duration of blackouts has almost doubled. Last year, during peak season the loadshedding duration remained between 12-14 hours in different areas, and residents suffered due to excessive bills.

"The power production stood at 16,500MW last year and the government would achieve it in summer as well," Asif told media persons. Justifying present loadshedding, the minister admitted that the government was not operating power plants at optimum levels despite dip in oil prices. "We will try to operate power plants at optimum level in summer," he added.

Asif said that presently power demand was 15500MW, while supply was 11500MW, and there is a shortfall of 4000MW. He admitted that despite cheap oil, power plants were not operated at their full; however, he negated that there was any issue of oil shortage.

"Uch Power Plant has been shut down due to issues on the gas field," he said, adding that 900MW electricity from Uch Power Plant would be restored in a couple of days.

He said that the CASA-1000MW power project was being signed in Istanbul, and the final tariff would be determined by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), while the country would start receiving electricity in 2019.

He said the government had a shift in priority over the Gadani power project due to lack of infrastructure and also because the implementation of power projects is scheduled to complete by 2018.

Asif said that the recovery of power bills had increased by 3.2%, and power distribution and transmission losses had also been reduced by one per cent compared to the same period last year. "The circular debt is Rs70 billion less than that of last year," he said, adding that power prices had come down by Rs 4.42 per unit due to a dip in global oil prices.

After giving many deadlines and later negating them, the PML-N minister once again gave a deadline of ending load shedding. "China will bring investment worth $20 billion to implement 8320 MW electricity generation projects which would overcome load shedding by 2017," he said. Asif asserted that the projects would be launched in all provinces and no province had been ignored in setting up power projects.

"Chinese investment is a good signal for foreign investors," he said, adding that these projects would be completed between 2018 and 2020.

On reporters' questions regarding massive corruption in power projects, Asif referred reporters to go to the court while answering allegations of kickbacks in power projects. "I had documentary proof against three power projects and went to court. You should also do the same,"