* Pakistan suffering from chronic energy shortage for a
* Pakistan PM has pledged shortages will end before 2018
* Critics say Pakistan offer overly generous terms to
By Drazen Jorgic
ISLAMABAD, Feb 13 Pakistan expects to end
electricity shortages by the end of 2017, a senior government
official said, in what would be a major electoral boost for the
ruling party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif's PML-N party swept to power in the 2013 polls by
pledging to end crippling power shortages that have hobbled
Pakistan's economy and put off foreign investors.
In recent months, Sharif has vowed that a system of
scheduled electricity outages, known as "load shedding", will be
over in time for the next poll, likely in May 2018.
Mohammad Younus Dagha, the secretary, or top official, at
the Water and Power Ministry, said the government was on course
to increase generation by 8,000MW this year and plug a 6,000MW
"We should be able to keep to the timelines and achieve them
... 2018 will be a load shedding-free year," Dagha told Reuters
over the weekend.
Scheduled outages in capital Islamabad have been halved to
three hours from six hours. Blackouts in major cities were as
much as 12 hours a few years ago.
Sharif's energy plans have been boosted by China, which is
ploughing more than $36 billion into energy-related projects as
part of the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),
a network of road, rail and energy links connecting Western
China to Pakistan's Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.
Critics, however, say the government's desperation to end
power shortages led to investors being offered far too generous
tariffs, saddling consumers and industry with some of the most
expensive electricity in the region.
Dagha said electricity costs should fall when the government
begins to phase out expensive imported furnace oil plants and
once large hydro projects come online in the 2020s.
"It is a big challenge to replace this expensive capacity
with more efficient and low-cost generation. We are trying to do
that but it will take a few years before we can compete with
regional low prices of electricity," Dagha said.
He added that Pakistan is now in a much stronger negotiating
position and will be working to reduce tariffs on new coal, wind
and solar projects to try to make electricity cheaper.
"From availability, now we are moving towards affordability
and energy security," Dagha said.
Analysts say that while Pakistan may succeed in
significantly boosting generation, there are question marks
about how well the country's ancient transmission systems will
cope with this new influx of energy. The government also plans
to invest in several high-voltage electricity lines but it will
take more than two years for them to come online.
Pakistan has put a temporary moratorium on awarding
contracts for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and
imported coal, and will instead focus on developing hydro and
indigenous coal energy plants.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Adrian Croft)