Thar Coal Field, when used to produce electricity, will make Pakistan self-sufficient in power generation. Coal mining from Thar will also supplement various other industries. However, the powerful oil lobby is behind the recent campaign against this project. This lobby is very strong in Pakistan and it is against their interest to allow any other means of power generation except oil

THE ONGOING energy crisis is getting worse with each passing day, adversely impacting country’s economy. The failure of successive governments to resolve the power crisis and augment domestic power generation has compelled industrialists to relocate their units to foreign countries including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and even Cambodia. With no major power projects upcoming in near future, the peak season power shortage sometimes swells to over 7000MW.

Energy sector experts are of the view that Pakistan has not only to take immediate measures to overcome the energy crisis by resorting to short, mid and long-term measures, but it also needs to change its energy mix by shifting to the less expensive sources of power generation like hydro, coal-based and alternative sources.

They say that Pakistan has one of the biggest, barely-touched, single coal reserve – the massive Thar coalfield with 175 billion tonnes of coal. This discovery has put Pakistan amongst the list of most energy resourced countries in the world.

Experts say that the Thar Coal Field, if developed, will yield over 200 billion tons of coal which, when used to produce electricity, will make Pakistan self-sufficient in power generation. Coal mining from Thar will also supplement various other industries.

Owing to its huge potential, the government off late decided to exploit the huge resources and initiated different projects. A project to generate 100MW power from gasification of coal was started. Renowned scientist Dr Sammar Mubarakmand, who is also Planning Commission’s member Science and Technology, was given the task to generate power from underground coal gasification (UCG) as a pilot project.

In the first phase of the UCG project, the project team was tasked to produce gas from underground burning of coal and Rs 984 million were allocated for the same. The team headed by Samar Mubarakmand successfully produced gas from the underground coal burning in 2011. In the second phase, a power plant to generate electricity from the gas produced from underground gasification of the coal was to be installed to generate 100 MW electricity and about 100 million dollars were allocated for that. But the government did not release a single penny. Recently, Planning Commission’s member Energy Shahid Sattar stirred a controversy by declaring the UCG project as unfeasible and commercially non-viable.

But the industry sources said that the powerful oil lobby was behind the recent campaign against the Thar coal project. They said that the oil lobby was very strong in Pakistan and it is against their interest to allow any other means of power generation except oil. Dr Samar Mubarakmand has rejected all the objections over the feasibility and financial viability of the project. He said that he was given the task to install 100 MW project based on UCG. In its first phase the project was allocated $11 million under which the gas was to be generated through burning coal underground. He said that his team successfully completed the task and dug out 38 gas wells (gasifiers).

At this time the power generated by Independent Power Producers cost about Rs 14 per unit while power generated through coal will cost Rs 4 to 5 per unit. With the recent campaign the Planning Commission had almost decided to shelve the project as the Annual Plan Co-ordination Committee (APCC) of the Commission earmarked a meagre Rs 200 million in the budget 2012-13 against the demand of Rs 8.898 billion for generating 100 MW of electricity.

When asked about the objection of PC member Energy Shahid Sattar that the project was a failure and the wells did not produce flames, Dr Samar said that his teams dug out 38 wells, two of them were test burnt and remained ignited for four months. When the disinformation campaign was launched, he said, they again fired four wells to show that they had successfully produced gas through underground burning of coal.

He said that they had successfully completed the first phase of the project and now awaiting the required funds to generate electricity by installing power plant at the site. Regarding feasibility and viability of the project, the renowned nuclear scientist said that project was technically and economically viable as its pilot project of 10 MW would ensure return of investment in 14 months by generating 10,000 kilowatt of electricity at Rs 10 per unit cost.

For a 100MW project it is expected to be 4-5 cents per unit, he added. He said that capital expenditure (Capex) on power generation from coal is lowest as compared to other sources even the hydel power. He explained that the Capex on a UCG power station inclusive of gasifiers is $1.2 per watt, the lowest for any power production plant.

He said that not only gas, but other by-products could be produced from the UCG . He said that the fertilizer sector could benefit maximum from the project. He said that the gas being used by fertilizers sector is first converted into coal gas as being produced by UCG and then used to produce fertilizer. Only 25 gasifiers can produce the total gas being consumed by the fertilizer sector.

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