Electricity diplomacy gets a shot at renewal

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi | Updated: May 26 2014, 15:09pm hrs
Power gridIndia under outgoing PM Manmohan Singh, had proposed to develop a limited-capacity, cross-country grid interconnection with Pak.
In his meeting with Nawaz Sharif, Narendra Modi would be in a position to offer a substantive step forward in the nascent electricity diplomacy efforts between the two countries, thanks to outgoing PM Manmohan Singhs initiatives on a proposal to develop a limited-capacity, cross-country grid interconnection. The proposed link, aimed at wheeling about 200 MW from India to power-starved Pakistan in the short-term, was steered through by bureaucrats after four rounds of technical discussions into the very last lap, but then shoved into cold storage by the UPA.

Modi is learnt to have been given an update on the grid-interconnection proposal Pakistan has been pursuing. The Modi government, according to officials in the know, is in a position offer a time-frame to Sharif on the signing of an overarching MoU to develop a proposed 50-km cross-border transmission link between Amritsar and Lahore that can supply 200 MW on radial mode to Lahore. The UPA stopped short of inking the MoU with Pakistan despite four rounds of technical discussions since 2012 and consensus having been reached on the architecture of the interconnection scheme, a proposal that has seen the personal involvement of the Pakistani PMs brother, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif.

Pakistan currently has a load around 15,000 MW, but faces shortages to the tune of 6,000 MW. There already exists a complete network of transmission lines and grids on the Pakistani side along the border with Punjab, and the nearest grid on the Indian side - at Patti in Tarn Taran district - is 50 km from the Lahore Ring.

As a short-term measure, once the lines are strung, Pakistan had indicated its willingness to island a portion of Lahore from the Pakistani grid and hook it up with the Indian side, enabling that city to draw 200 MW from the Indian grid.

It is envisaged that a transmission line can be built in 12-18 months, with mutual coordination of the security agencies on either side, government officials indicated. According to the technical proposal, to prevent disturbances across the border, an HVDC back-to-back terminal would subsequently be installed on the Pakistan side, which would act as a buffer and control the flow of power. The scheme would be similar to the interconnection that India has established with Bangladesh.

The HVDC terminal would take three years to build and Pakistans request is that until that happens, the transmission line be energised to supply 200 MW power on radial mode as a measure of immediate relief.

The cost of the transmission link would be about Rs 200 crore and that of the HVDC terminal between Rs 500-1,000 crore, depending on its capacity. Pakistan is looking for relief of 1,000 MW, while India has initially offered 500 MW.

Load shedding was one of the biggest issues in the general elections in Pakistan last May, and immediately after taking charge, Sharif had asserted that his government was working on the crisis. Due to power shortages, industries have closed and unemployment has increased.