Why Outages Still Occur After 5 Yrs, Billions On New Plants & $900M on Transmission Lines

JUN 17, 2018 (BE2C2 Report – updated): Nearly $900 million (Rs94 billion) has been spent over the past five years to complete transmission line projects in an attempt to improve the poor transmission and distribution network that could not bear all electricity load including additional load created by power generation projects completed in all four provinces on fast-track basis.

Most of these power plants were constructed out of the $34 billion to $36 billion loans built into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor package as “early harvest projects”, to reduce impact of the energy crisis country faces. (See Infographic at the end of the report)

The crisis always had twin-heads though, it emerges: A) power generation and B) ability to transmit, distribute electricity over existing lines.

CPEC loans were mostly used up for A it has emerged. The new $2.1 billion Matiari-Lahore transmission line is said to be still in the works after long-drawn negotiations (3-year delay) with the Chinese government and state-companies hired to build it. The idea was to install a new line while B is taken care of concurrently — both these have fallen short though on the overall critical path.

The government has again given seven-month extension to the Chinese company for the start of construction work on the 660-kilovolt high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) project.

The said new line project is being executed by China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Company Limited (CET) of State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) but awaits financial closing despite lapse of several years for various reasons. One of them is having putt the cart before the horse, says one power consultant on condition of anonymity. The real issue with the energy crisis emanates from  line losses in B above, and whatever load the existing lines can still carry they are on 100 percent full-load with no redundancy.

Construction work was supposed to start from next month and the Matiari project had to be operational by August 2020 according to the revised timelines.

However, after the latest revision, the project cannot become operational before March or April 2021 with new financial closing date of December this year. This new line is supposed to carry new load from Thar coal power plants and Karachi’s Port Qasim coal plants up north to Punjab and new power south from new power plants (such as Sahiwal, Nandipur, Bhikki, Haveli, etc. in Punjab) if needed.

In this situation, despite an addition of thousands of megawatts of power generation capacity on fast track basis, and more in the pipeline, the existing transmission system cannot not supply the additional energy to consumers as the existing network can’t bear the load on safe permissible standards.

The first-of-its-kind system capacity ascertainment exercise was conducted as late as July 2016 — it should have been conducted earlier, the consultant says. 45 projects were identified then. Of these, 32 have been reportedly completed according to official statements, while the remaining 13 are at the implementation phase, it is said. But the time lost is now coming to bite us, the consultant added, pointing finger at “Blame it on Rio” syndrome — meaning blame it on everybody, and if that doesn’t work, blame it on “stupid engineers” and “incompetent managers”, etc.

The World Bank last month agreed with Pakistan’s request to provide $425 million soft loan to help remove existing power supply bottlenecks on an urgent basis. The USAID is also assisting. These sustained efforts will however take time to reap the ‘early harvests’ grown with Chinese loans and Chinese state-operated EPC Contractors.


The WB loan solicited on urgent basis for the National Transmission Modernization (Phase-I) Project is designed to increase the capacity and reliability of selected segments of the existing national transmission system in the country and modernize key business processes of the NTDC. That this initiative should have been undertaken concurrent with jump-starting buyout of new power plants from the Chinese rather than delaying it or having delayed it for whatever reasons, is a question several power experts ask.

The total cost of the project is $536.33m. While the World Bank will provide $425m the NTDC will bear the difference of $111.33m. But these initiatives will take time to complete and deliver results, as rehabilitating transmission projects are linear in nature and the grid stations’ rehab activities sequential and cluster-based — they can’t be fast-tracked though for various reasons including logistical and security related, except on a very exorbitant cost as has been the case with Nandipur Power project, etc., said the consultant.

In the face of a gap between additional power generation capacity buildup on such fast-track basis, and the lag in upgrading existing transmission and distribution network along with delays in adding new line (such as Matiari) to supplement, there have been aberrations in the overall process. Therefore the outages and loadsheddings, several power professionals said.

The evacuation of power that is said to being being generated at the 1320MQ Port Qasim plants remains affected for lack of approximately 70km transmission line which should have been built and readied for. Presently, power it is said, is being diverted into K-Electric’s distribution system direct, one power professional on condition of anonymity said.

A partial system breakdown which occurred on May 16, 2018 in the wake of failure of a reactor at the Guddu power plant split the system between north and south.

Later, the system was stabilized, but it again broke down due to early outage of recently commissioned liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plants at Haveli Bahadur Shah and Bhikki in the central region of Punjab.

Another breakdown occurred on May 21 after major 500kv and 220kv auto-transformers at the Rawat grid station stopped working, which was followed by cascaded tripping according to the protection plan in order to save sensitive power equipment from damage.

The system tripped when generation at Tarbela and Mangla hydel power stations stood low and the Nandipur power plant was shut down for maintenance which excessively increased the load on the Rawat grid station.

After this incident, according to the Power Division, the system operator was constantly monitoring key installations to control excessive load and avoid breakdown all over the country, reported The Express Tribune.

So, you now have two problems to deal with, the consultant said: Firstly, these transmission lines can’t carry enough load to begin with, secondly when surges occur, it can’t handle it — both problems remain in the system because these lines needed upgradation and rehabilitation years back regardless of addition of new power plants, the consultant said.

The Tarbela-Burhan 220kv transmission line’s circuit I & II which have been completed recently have provided considerable relief from load-shedding in the jurisdiction of Islamabad Electricity Supply Company (Iesco). Others got to wait.


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