Coal powered plants emit carbon dioxide along with noxious pollutants and, on average, churn out 146,000 tons of PM 2.5 particulates annually. There have been many studies that have conclusively proved that these dangerous pollutants have caused numerous deaths over the years, especially in developing countries as they are prone to be dependent on coal for their energy needs. The top three coal producers in the world are China, India and the United States, while 40 percent of all the electricity generated globally is from coal as well. China also has the unique distinction of increasing its share of coal production from 13.6 percent in the 1970’s, to 44.5 percent in 2016, with only 44 percent efficiency, despite the production of cost-effective and energy-saving power plants. There are ways to control this pollution that can help remove toxins like sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, PM2.5 and mercury etc. However the expenditure incurred on installing these controls adds to the capital cost of a coal plant. If not treated properly, these toxins can eventually seep into the groundwater, or in to our plants, effectively poisoning our food and water supply. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) reduces carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, but remains an unproven technology that has not been implemented at any largescale fossil fuel plants as yet. In 2017, Mississippi’s Kemper County Energy Facility, which has been promoted as a pioneering clean coal plant in the United States, switched over to natural gas, after exceeding its original cost by $4 billion. The only way CSS is economically viable is if production of coal is increased by 25 to 40 percent, however the resulting impact on the environment would render its use unnecessary. Electricity generation, as per the Planning Commission of Pakistan, is currently divided amongst thermal, hydro and coal power, with each contributing 64 percent, 30 percent and 0.1 percent to our national grid, respectively The Thar coalfields have been projected as the panacea to the energy crisis in Pakistan. It was co-discovered by the Geological Survey of United Sates, and the Geological Survey of Pakistan, in 1992, but this discovery came a little late for our country. While others had already utilised this resource, Pakistan lacked the expertise to do so themselves, which is why we are so behind in coal production today. Thar coal is spread over an area of 9,000 km2 and contains poor quality lignite, with a troublingly high carbon footprint. Its complex geological features include an overburden with a depth of up to 120 metres, brackish aquifers and a high ore stripping ratio. It has a low calorific value and has a high ash, moisture and sulphur content. It also flakes and desiccates and it is not technically feasible to transport the coal over long distances either. The coal at Thar has seams of varying thickness and depth, while large amounts of water are needed at the mine site as well, something that easier said than done in an arid country like Pakistan. Electricity generation, as per the Planning Commission of Pakistan, is currently divided amongst thermal, hydro and coal, with each contributing 64 percent, 30 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively, to our energy production. Annual domestic coal production is around 3.5 million tons, while about 5 million tons of coal is imported to other countries, particularly Australia and Indonesia. According to the International Energy Agency, Pakistan’s per capita electricity consumption is currently 451 kwh, which is one-sixth of the world average of 2,730 kilowatt hours (kwh). There are several ways coal can be extracted from Thar. The 1 km2 long open pit cast mine can be used, while the age old method of extracting coal using bucket and wheel excavators can also be used, even though this might prove to be quite capital intensive, with one excavator costing approximately $130 million. Another method of extraction currently being favoured at the Thar coalfields is dumping the overburden by using trucks, but that runs the risk of undue accidents. In order to establish a mine with an output of almost 1,100 mw, the cost would come around to $2 billion and the only time this would be feasible is if the price of oil exceeds $70 per barrel. This can only be determined through a feasibility report from the bank, which could also cost upwards of $10 million, making the entire endeavour a veritable black hole. A fresh environmental impact assessment by recognised and accredited international experts should be carried out, prior to initiating work on any coal project. This is necessary to minimise the detrimental effects coal production can have on its surrounding ecosystem and for preventing any environmental disasters. The method of payment will also need to be determined, as many multilateral western lending institutions are not willing to provide loans for coal based power production, and alternate methods will need to be determined before we can proceed. If all these factors are taken care of first, then perhaps coal might be the answer to Pakistan’s dire electricity problem. The writer is involved research related to finance and energy. Nadir Mumtaz has also contributed to the article Published in Daily Times, June 19th 2018.