The recent inauguration of the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant ahead of schedule was heralded as a major achievement by the Punjab government. Of course, when it comes to power generation, the 1200MW power plant will certainly come in handy to plug the generation deficit along with provision of employment to people.
However, this column has on more than one occasion, expressed its reservations about the choice of both the location and fuel type being used. Granted, Punjab is now one step closer to becoming “self-reliant” in its energy needs. But when one has a national transmission system, it makes sense to build power plants according to the geographical suitability of the area. For instance, the wind corridors of Jhimpir and Gharo are ideally suited for wind power plants whereas the Gilgit-Baltistan area holds immense hydro potential.
But installing a coal power plant even if it is super critical technology, in the heart of one of the most fertile agricultural belts in the province is reflective of flawed due diligence. Sahiwal is not only home to a huge number of indigenous cows and buffaloes but also provides a plethora of crops including grain, potato and fodder.
Even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Punjab has given an NOC on the project, experts believe the coal power plant will take a heavy toll on the natural ecosystem of the district damaging crops, livestock and the human populace in its twenty-five years of operation.
Another troubling fact which needs to be taken into account is the massive use of water that is required. According to researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories which is part of the U.S Department of Energy (DOE), the typical 500-megawatt coal-fired plant burns 250 tons of coal per hour and consumer 12 million gallons of water an hour or 300 million gallons a day for operational purposes.
And we are talking about a 1200MW plant and one can imagine the tremendous amount of water required. Then there is the issue of the fuel which is imported coal. The Thar coal mines are being developed at a decent pace but the plant will be run on imported coal from South Africa and Indonesia. To top it off, coal will travel almost a 1000 km all the way from Port Qasim to Sahiwal mostly via rail.
According to the original draft agreement, Pakistan Railway has demanded a charge of Rs3100/tons transport the coal which cumulatively will be greater than gas or furnace oil transport.
Ultimately, as in everything else the higher tariff will be borne by the end consumer. In addition, like Nandipur and Neelum-Jheelum urgency in power plant commissioning can result in unforeseen delays and massive losses to the exchequer. It would be a better approach to instead build power plants after thorough unbiased due diligence which includes both environment and economic aspects.
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