ISLAMABAD: National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) reportedly came under fire at a meeting of the Federal Cabinet on March 2, 2023 for becoming part of the problem instead of bringing improvement in the power system, well-informed sources told Business Recorder.
The role of the power regulator came under question when an inquiry report on the country-wide power breakdown of January 23, 2023 was tabled before the Cabinet. A Committee headed by Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Dr Musadik Malik, and comprising former Secretary Power, Irfan Ali and others had prepared the inquiry report after four meetings.
“Inefficiencies of regulatory authorities were also highlighted, which instead of improving the system, had themselves become part of the problem. A couple of cases of investments in wind and hydrogen energy projects were cited, which were stymied due to the inability of Nepra to resolve tariff issues,” said a few cabinet members.
During the discussion, a member expressed concern that the inquiry report had mainly shifted the onus on the archaic system and not fixed any responsibility for the negligence of concerned officials. He exhorted that for such a major event, which engulfed the entire country in darkness, inflicting tremendous financial cost besides causing hardship to the general public, responsibility must be fixed and action taken against the erring officials.
Another member argued that the breakdown was spawned by a rickety and dilapidated power grid system and associated infrastructure, which needed to be revamped on priority. Attention was drawn to billions of dollars committed by the ADB for the refurbishment of transmission lines, which unfortunately remained under/ unutilized.
Alluding to the operationalization of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) based power management and distribution, the question was asked as to who was responsible for the abject delay. It was also pointed out that the energy mix needed to be rectified and dependence on imported fuels should be reduced and reliance on renewable energy must be enhanced along with strengthening of the transmission system.
The members, while endorsing the findings and recommendations of the inquiry committee, stressed that responsibility on negligent officials must also be fixed to create deterrence for the future. It was; however, cautioned that allowing deviation from the merit order system would not be desirable, as billions of rupees were involved. The departure should only be permitted in extreme emergencies and that too after putting in place a robust and responsible mechanism.
The members also discussed other challenges facing the power sector such as distribution losses, governance weaknesses, the lack of coordination between the multiple agencies and absence of clear lines of authority etc. It was suggested that Discos should either be privatised or provincialised as soon as possible. In addition, their boards should be reconstituted bringing in technical/ sectoral experts. Similarly, a professional management team in Wapda should be appointed. For better coordination between the power sector agencies, it was suggested that a central authority should be identified.
It was agreed that responsibility for negligence needed to be fixed, for which the Power Division should proceed in accordance with law. Commenting on increasing reliance on renewable energy, it was apprised that solarization of federal government buildings had already been approved and the Finance Division had agreed to provide a forex cover of $ 100 million in this regard.
It was further suggested that the Cabinet may approve the recommendations of the inquiry committee, in-principle, and direct the Power Division to move a formal summary for the Cabinet, as required in terms of rule 18 of Rules of Business, 1973. It should also contain a time-bound implementation plan.
The Cabinet took note of the presentation by the Minister of State for Petroleum on report of the inquiry committee on recent power breakdown and approved in-principle, the recommendations contained therein, with the direction that Power Division submits a formal summary to the Cabinet, as required under rule 18 of Rules of Business, 1973. The summary must include a time bound implementation plan.
The Cabinet further directed the Power Division to have a departmental inquiry conducted against those responsible for negligence and proceed against them in accordance with the law.
Musadik Malik stated that the Committee has made recommendations relating to the system, capacity building, governance and other issues to avoid such country wide power breakdowns in the future.
The Committee in its recommendation for improvement in the system, proposed establishment of daily operating plan on principles of Grid Code, follow EMO (Economic Merit Order) along with Grid code principles for system security, establish a proper restoration plan and annually pre-test it under blackout conditions (System Operator, Wapda and IPPs), integrate SCADA system to ensure the stability of the recently activated HVDC system to avoid the frequent commutation failures. There were over 300 failures as against anticipated 3-4 failures.
For capacity building, the Committee has recommended development of an in-house skill-set and capability for operational planning (by System Operator (NPCC) introduction of fresh talent in the system, well versed with the latest A1 technologies and training of existing personnel.
For improvement in governance, the Committee has recommended establishment of an implementation committee (including heads of all stakeholders) under the convenorship of the Minister for Energy (Power Division), formulation and integration Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for low water season (by Wapda, NTDC &IRSA), starting of governance study on power system operations, reduction in fragmentation of command and improvement inter and intra departmental coordination.
The Committee recommended that Power Division should conduct departmental inquiry of power control management team and shift in-charge and his team.
The Committee has also recommended that Wapda should investigate and take action for failure of Black-start facilities of 3 central region plants whereas NTDC should conduct investigation of 300 commutation failures in HVDC system and take action.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023