One of the biggest hydro-power plants in Pakistan which was constructed by a Chinese firm on river Neelam has come to a grinding halt due to geological failure deep inside the tunnel which diverts water from the river to the power plant.
With the shutting of a 969MW power plant, Pakistan today stares at a total power shortage of 7,324 MW. This shortage is likely to make the power situation worse for people who are reeling under power cuts ranging from 12 to 16 hours in major cities like Karachi and Lahore.
The government has already declared a ‘power emergency’ with the possibility of saving power by switching off internet and mobile connections. Markets and offices are shut early and public transport systems are facing the worst ever lockdown.
The acute power crisis has added to the woes of the incumbent government of Shehbaz Sharif saddled with political setbacks, economic meltdown and a divided military. The repairs at the Neelam-Jhelum hydropower power plant are likely to take over six months, leaving the country scampering for additional power from other sources which are scarce.
In April this year, for instance, Prime Minister Sharif was informed that 27 power plants with a combined generation capacity of over 7000 megawatts were out of order due to technical faults or fuel shortages.
The shutting down of the Neelum-Jhelum plant, constructed at a cost of ₹ 508 billion in 2018 after considerable time and cost runs, has made matters worse. Although the exact cause of the problem is yet to be known, it is believed that a 3.5 km long tunnel has been blocked.
The tunnel is used to pump water from the river to the power plant to generate electricity. The water is afterwards pumped into the tunnel to flow back to the river. The problem is in the tunnel that diverts water from the power plant to the river.
The 58 kilometres of tunnel and its length is one of the keynote features of the plan, was constructed by Chinese contractor CGGC-CMEC (Gezhouba Group).
Pakistan’s water authority, WAPDA, has engaged the same Chinese firm to identify and rectify the blockage. The authority has also sought advice from the US firm, Stantec. Two years ago, the Chinese firm bagged another plant project on river Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at a value of USD 1.9 billion.