There is more to Thar coal than power

In the ongoing economic and political crises, it is heartening to see a few institutions thinking ahead

Thar Coal and Energy Board (TCEB) in Sindh is one of them

Within a decade or so, the myths that Thar coal is of inferior quality, that the sulphur content is too high and that the moisture is an insoluble problem have been exploded

Out of the 13 blocks identified for development, coal has been successfully mined in two, used in producing over about 1000 MW of power and supplied to the national grid as the third cheapest source

At the end of this year, it is estimated to rise to 2600 MW

While the capacity of the two blocks has not exhausted, the TCEB brought together stakeholders and experts from all over the country on last Wednesday in Karachi to seek advice on opening up more blocks and explore new, non-power uses of coal

Other than the POL products, the big and unmanageable import bill includes $2-3 billion import of coal as well

In addition to the coal-based power projects, the major consumer is the cement industry

This industry is suffering from increasing cost of imports

Interestingly, the cement industry has also been importing moisturised coal from Indonesia

Drying at mine mouth reduces cost of transport and producing cement at mine mouth saves transport cost and caters to its ashes needs almost free

Urea is another big ticket item

All this information will help TCEB move away from the inefficient cost-plus pricing to more competitive pricing

This is necessary to avoid a re-play of the Sui gas story of a never-ending cheap source of energy, with people optimising the use of match sticks by keeping the heat on continuously

Mercifully, the neglect of the people of Sui is not being repeated in Thar as the rights and the needs of the locals, without any discrimination witnessed elsewhere in the Islamic Republic, seem to be receiving due attention

The people of Thar come first, declared the Sindh energy minister in his concluding remarks

Transporting coal is a business that requires a fresh look

Diesel-using trucks are prohibitively costly

Rail links to transport coal from the minefields to other parts of the country do not exist

It is an open secret that the railways have been systematically destroyed in the unending process of the elite capture of the state

A promise by the federal government at the highest level to link Thar by rail has not gone past the PC-I preparation stage

With the austerity imposed by the IMF programme, there is little to hope for

The subject of railways is in Part II of the Federal List in the Constitution

The Government of Sindh could legitimately go ahead on its own or in the public-private mode

It will be surprised by the returns that would flow back

With Pakistan among the leaders to have placed the Loss and Damage financing facility on the agenda of COP27, should the country be going all out for “dirty” coal? While this scheme of things can take years to take shape, coal is all that Pakistan has to reduce dependence on an increasingly uncertain world

It must, however, use modern technologies of mitigation

As an expert pointed out at the meeting, burning coal should be out of question

Cleaner coal energy is possible

All alternatives should be explored in deciding future investments

As a regulator, TCEB has to face up to the challenge of coming up with a pricing formula that would incentivise such investments

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2023

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Date:25-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link