The Punjab cabinet has approved the privatisation of the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power (Private) Limited. The QASPL had been set up as a joint venture between the provincial set-up and a Chinese firm as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) early harvest projects. This latest move indicates divestment of the Punjab government’s equity in the company.
The latter has defended the decision on the grounds that funds generated by selling government equity will be earmarked for other power generation projects. Bluntly put, something may be afoot. Especially considering the fanfare with which the QASPL was launched. Recall that this solar power plant was, back then, sold to the citizenry as the largest of its type in the world, boasting a generation capacity of 1,000 megawatts. A projected generation capacity of 100 MW was scheduled for the pilot phase. Yet not only has transition from this phase still to happen — even this target is not being met.
Murmurings of under-performance were first heard at the end of 2015, a mere seven months after the power plant’s inauguration. The figures spoke for themselves. The QASPL was producing just 18MW of electricity; a pretty damning picture for a government that took the Centre and returned to the Punjab on a mandate of bringing to an end to Pakistan’s woeful energy crisis.
The government must come clean. Meaning that it must explain whether this is a simple case of a solar plant generating less than optimal levels of power on average due to the lack of an energy source being readily available around-the-clock. Or else, it must address the issue of whether it considers 18MW a decent level of power generated by a plant designed to produce 100MW optimally? Whichever way the Punjab government may wish to spin it, one thing is clear: the people deserve the facts with full transparency. Especially given that the CM himself has been so keen to give his leadership a pat on the proverbial back for the procedural transparency at play throughout every stage of the project’s development.
Tariff determination is another important QASPL-related issue that has brought with it its own measure of controversy. The upfront tariff approved for the plant has been criticised in the media as being unreasonably higher than the global average. Then there was all the toing-and-froing between the regulator, the Chinese firm and the national transmission and dispatch company when it came to granting the licence.
These issues of power generation, tariff determination and project implementation go far beyond QASPL. This country has, after all, signed up for a massive inflow of Chinese investment to boost its power sector, with solar power projects figuring prominently. Thus regardless of who controls QASLP in terms of equity — the fate of this particular project is going to feature in the broader story of Pakistan’s power sector. It is therefore extremely important that the irregularities detected in QASLP are taken care of now rather than later. Transparency, after all is the name of the game. The CM himself says so.*