BAHAWALPUR:Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday inaugurated the country’s first solar power plant, the latest fruit of increasingly close cooperation with China and a step towards an electoral promise to end chronic power shortages. The Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur produces 100MW of power, which will be increased by next year.
The plant, owned by the Punjab government and built by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co Ltd, took a year to build at a cost of $190 million, government documents show. Spread over 500 acres of sun-baked Bahawalpur district, is a link in an ambitious plan for a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, unveiled by China’s President Xi Jinping last month.
“After terrorism, energy crisis is the second-most crucial issue of Pakistan,” the prime minister said at the inauguration of the plant. “And now there is hope that we shall soon overcome the energy crisis through solar- and coal-based and other energy projects.”
The inauguration was celebrated with festivities as camels and horses stuttered to the drum beat and national flags fluttered over the venue. The plant is the first stage of a project that will eventually cover 10,000-plus acres of the central Cholistan desert and add 1,000MW to the national grid, making it one of the biggest solar parks in the world.
Flanked by Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Premier Nawaz reiterated his government’s resolve to “eliminate terrorism and energy crisis from the country”.
He lamented that many investors who desired to set up industries in Pakistan were discouraged because of the energy crisis. “Since I became prime minister, my one goal has been to eliminate darkness in Pakistan and bring lights back to the country. Power cuts will be over by either 2017 or 2018 and the wheels of industry will start working.”
He said 3,000 workers had been working on the solar park and 800 of them would work on a permanent basis. He also announced Rs20 million for all the 3,000 workers.
Pakistan has signed investment agreements with China to build various gas, coal and solar energy projects that will generate 16,400MW of electricity, roughly equivalent to the country’s entire current capacity.
“Until a few days before President Xi’s visit, no one believed that China would invest such a huge amount in Pakistan,” said Nawaz, “but when the president visited Pakistan and signed the MoUs, everyone believed it.”
Addressing the ceremony, Ambassador Sun said the solar plant marked a new phase of cooperation between the neighbours.
Premier Nawaz said no agreements were made at this pace in the past. “This is the first time in the country’s history that democracy is delivering.”
The premier said the solar park has started producing 100MW. “By 2017-18, it will start producing 1,000MW. The Thar coal power project will produce 2,000MW and other projects will add a total of 10,400MW to the national grid.”
“When I came here a year ago, there was only a desert,” he said. “We laid the foundation stone of this project at that time and now this place looks like an ocean of solar panels.”
Talking about the Karachi-Lahore Motorway, he said the Chinese government would work on the Multan-Sukkur Motorway, while the Pakistani government would work on the Karachi-Sukkur Motorway and the remaining projects.
“In Pakistan, a project typically takes at least 30 years to be completed, but our government has completed every project in record time. I want all the current projects to be completed within the government’s tenure.”
Premier Nawaz said the areas infested with terrorists had been cleared and people belonging to those localities were returning to their homes. “We want to improve our relationship with Afghanistan and put an end to terrorism.”
He said the Karachi situation was much better than it was in the past. “With the exception of a few political conflicts, the overall crime rate in the city has fallen.”