Focus on cheap energy

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AS the country continues to face the energy crisis, two important developments underline the policy of the government to focus on energy security and bring down its cost to provide relief to the consumers as well as the national economy.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on Monday, inaugurated the refurbishment of units five and six of the Mangla Dam Hydroelectric Plant while Minister of State for Petroleum Division Musadik Masood Malik, who has just returned from Moscow at the head of a delegation, said Pakistan has secured a strong commitment from Russia for the sale of crude and other POL products at reduced prices under a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement.

Soaring energy bill was at the heart of the economic and financial woes of Pakistan and, therefore, the priority being given by the government to the issue is a step in the right direction.

The magnitude of the problem can be gauged by the fact that the energy import bill has swelled to a staggering $27 billion which is close to the amount that Pakistan struggles to get from the foreign sources to meet its debt and other obligations.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasized that had the water reservoirs built on time, the country’s energy bill would not have soared so much.

According to WAPDA, Pakistan has hydropower potential of over 60.000 MW, of which only about 8.000 has been developed.

Unfortunately, the country could not exploit this potential due to politicization of vital water reservoirs like Kalabagh but negligible exploitation of potential for small and medium dams also speaks volumes over lack of vision and commitment on the part of the successive federal and provincial governments.

Apart from this, we afforded the luxury of apathy towards growing energy needs of the country by demonstrating criminal negligence in exploiting domestic coal reserves.

Similarly, the country’s coastal belt has an exploitable potential of 50,000 MW of electricity generation through wind turbines besides a vast potential for solar power.

One must appreciate the hard work done by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as, despite various odds, it has succeeded in increasing the share of nuclear energy to the national energy mix.

Other departments including WAPDA and Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) need to work with similar spirit and zeal to get rid of energy shortfalls and to ensure provision of energy to people and the industry at affordable rates.

The kinds of problems facing our energy sector are explained by the remarks of the Prime Minister that powerful lobbies and cartels did not let materialize the construction of dams and launch of solar power projects.

Isn’t it strange that these lobbies and cartels are more powerful than the state? We hope that the Prime Minister, who keeps national interests above other considerations, would hammer out a strategy to foil designs of these cartels and put the country on the firm path of energy security.

It is also relevant to point out that the country has achieved a diplomatic breakthrough by arriving at an understanding with Russia for import of oil at reduced rates.

This would help mitigate sufferings of the consumers who have become weary of repeated upward adjustment in the prices of POL products mainly because of the massive devaluation of the rupee on the pretext of increasing exports.

The announcement of the Minister of State is not a political stunt as a high powered Russian delegation will visit Islamabad next month to settle modalities and price.

The Government has also initiated talks with the Russian Federation for a long-term G2G contract for supply of LNG while negotiations are also in progress with the Russian private companies for the supply of LNG on an urgent basis in view of increased demand for gas in winter and its non-availability at affordable rates in the international market.

It goes to the credit of the previous PML(N) Government to have finalized arrangements for import of LNG from brotherly country Qatar on favourable terms and successful finalization of arrangements for import of Russian oil and LNG would add another feather to its cap.

These are the practical measures to move toward resolution of chronic problems of the country and to provide much-needed relief to the masses.