Nationwide outage exposes energy sector discrepancies

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The Central Power Generation Company Ltd (CPGCL), taking a preliminary action, has suspended seven junior officers over alleged negligence that led to countrywide blackouts on the weekend, as the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) mounts its own investigation.

A nationwide electricity breakdown at 11.40 pm Saturday plunged the entire country into darkness and triggered a high alert. So far, there has not been any concrete conclusion about the faults and those responsible for power outages.

Initially, it was reported that the Guddu power plant developed a fault at 11:41pm that led to tripping of transmission lines. However, there are some protocols in place to avoid such a situation and now, the question arises whether or not those protocols were followed to avoid the massive blackout.

At present, two views are being expressed by the managements of the power companies – there was a fault at the Guddu power plant that led to tripping the transmission lines or the transmission lines from Guddu tripped causing the nationwide blackout.

Traditionally, fog has been a major threat to the Guddu power plant, according to one viewpoint. But there are some protocols in place to offset the impact of severe wave of fog and secure the plant from any untoward incident.

Also, protection system isolators are installed at the Guddu power plant which isolate the power plant from transmission system in case of any technical fault. These isolators need monthly, quarterly, half yearly and yearly maintenance.

In this case, it appears that this system at the Guddu power plant failed to work as the fault affected the transmission lines, which led to the viewpoint that it was a big failure on the part of the plant management.

Secondly, the NTDC is to wash the transmission lines periodically to offset the impact of fog. This measure addresses the fog issue immediately but, in this incident, it also seems that management failed to wash the transmission line in time that was tripped.

Bad sectoral governance

 

Bad governance in energy sector has also been termed another major reason for the failure of power system on January 9. The government has been running the NTDC – a body that operates transmission lines – on ad-hoc basis.

A power division official had been given acting charge of the NTDC for three and half years. For the past six months, NDTC Managing Director Dr Khawaja Rifat is looking after the affairs of the company.

 

According to insiders, Rifat is the junior-most general manager in the NTDC and has no experience of field work. There are some other general managers, dealing with the grid system operations, but they do not have much exposure.

Since the MD is a junior, therefore he is facing problems in dealing with senior general managers’ working. So, the NTDC has been facing a situation of internal leg pulling between the managing director and other senior general managers.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Genco-2, Hammad Amer Hashim, was appointed on a three-year contract, but he also lacked experience of maintaining mega power complex of Guddu with over 2,000 MW generation capacity. He had spent most of the time in providing consultancy. So, he was actually a consultant and did not have much experience of dealing with such mega power complex.

Currently, there are four Gencos, which included Jamshoro Power Generation Company Limited (Genco-1), Guddu Thermal Power Station (Genco-II), Northern Power Generation Company (Genco-III) and Lakhra Power Plant (Genco-IV). They are under the administrative control of the GENCO Holding Company Limited.

But ironically, its CEO, Muhammad Imran, is holding the position for the last seven years without having any field experience. He comes from the accounts side. He was the director finance at Genco-II, but holding the charge of the CEO for last seven years.

 

Suspension of Employees

Then there is the CPGCL. It has held seven officials responsible for the blackout and suspended then as preliminary action. These employees have revealed to the management that they were working on maintenance of one machine at Guddu power plant when the tripping occurred, sources said.

According to the sources, senior officers were not present at plant at the time of the tripping as they had already left. Therefore, junior officials failed to observe the protocols to avoid the tripping of the power plant.

Old transmission lines

Though the government has overhauled the transmission system but major portion of it is old and did not have the capacity to transmit the electricity.

The previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had worked on energy projects worth billions of dollars under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Its major focus had been on power generation plants but it ignored the transmission system. The issues in the transmission system surfaced when new plants starting generating electricity but it was unable to pick the electricity.

The PTI government focused on recovery of electricity bills from the consumers. It also focuses on controlling the power theft after coming into power. However, it did not focus on power sector reforms and even investing into the transmission lines.

Previously, during the PML-N government, the power division continued interfering into the affairs of the power companies. The PML-N government had made power division officials heads of the energy companies, including the NTDC on ad hoc basis.

The power division has also been a centre of controversies. It had a minister and special assistants to the prime minister. However, they started fighting against each other. Recently, Tabish Gauhar, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Power, resigned as he did not know whom to respond, whether the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on petroleum Nadeem Babar or Petroleum Minister Omer Ayub. However, the prime minister has asked Gauhar to continue working.
Source: tribune.com.pk