Pakistan plans huge desert solar park to fight energy crisis

BADAIWANI WALA: For years Pakistanis have sweated and cursed through summer power cuts, but now the government plans to harness the sun’s ferocious heat to help tackle the country’s chronic energy crisis.

In a corner of the Cholistan desert in Punjab province, power transmission lines, water pipes and a pristine new road cross 10,000 acres of parched, sandy land.

The provincial government has spent $5 million to put in place the infrastructure as it seeks to transform the desolate area into one of the world’s largest solar power parks, capable one day of generating up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

The desert park in Bahawalpur district is the latest scheme to tackle the rolling blackouts which have inflicted misery on people and strangled economic growth.

Temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the country’s centre in June and July, sending demand for electricity soaring and leaving a shortfall of around 4,000 MW.

“In phase one, a pilot project producing 100 MW of electricity will hopefully be completed by the end of this year,” Imran Sikandar Baluch, head of the Bahawalpur district administration, told AFP.

“After completion of the first 100 MW project, the government will invite investors to invest here for the 1,000 megawatts.”

A ‘river’ of solar panels

Engineers and labourers are working in the desert under the scorching sun to complete the boundary wall, with authorities keen to begin generating solar electricity by November.

“If you come here after one and a half years, you will see a river of (solar) panels, residential buildings and offices — it will be a new world,”said site engineer Muhammad Sajid, gesturing to the desert.

Besides solar, Pakistan is also trying to tap its unexploited coal reserves — which lie in another area of the same desert, in Sindh province.

In January Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated construction on a $1.6 billion coal plant in the town of Thar, in Sindh.

Work has also begun on a pilot 660 megawatt coal-fired plant in Gadani, a small town on the Arabian Sea.

Another 600 megawatt coal plant has also been given the go-ahead in the southern city of Jamshoro.

But while coal may offer a short-term fix to the energy crisis, authorities are keen to move to cleaner electricity in the long run.

“We need energy badly and we need clean energy, this is a sustainable solution for years to come,” said Baloch.

“Pakistan is a place where you have a lot of solar potential. In Bahawalpur, with very little rain and a lot of sunshine, it makes the project feasible and more economical,” he said.

Clean energy

Baloch believes that the new solar park will make Pakistan a leader in that energy in the region. The initial pilot project is a government scheme but private investors are also taking an interest.

Raja Waqar of Islamabad-based Safe Solar Power is among them. His company plans to invest $10 million to build a 10 MW project in the new park.

“The government has allotted us land over here. Infrastructure, the transmission line and road are available here, that is why we are investing,”Waqar told AFP.

A million dollars per MW is a sizeable investment but Waqar said the company expected to reap returns on it over at least the next decade, and others were keen to get on board.

“There are up to 20 companies who are investing in this park and their projects are in the pipeline,” he said. “Some of them are working on 50 MW, some on 10 and others on 20.”But not everyone is so upbeat about the project.

Arshad Abbasi, an energy expert at Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said the cost of generating solar power from this project may be uneconomical for the government.

He also warned that buying in solar equipment from abroad made little economic sense.

“Had the government decided to establish more hydro or thermal plants in the country it would have generated more employment, business and construction opportunities,” he said.

And farmers in the area who scrape a living herding cattle on the unforgiving land are worried about their future.

“We don’t know if this energy park is good, the power will come or not, we only want the government to spare our area and allow us to continue living here with our cattle,” said Malik Jalal, a local villager.

Courtesy: DAWN
http://www.dawn.com/news/1101141

BBC – Can anyone control Pakistan’s ISI spies?

bbcPakistan’s dreaded spy agency, the ISI, is back in the spotlight, accused of murdering journalist Saleem Shahzad. The agency’s engagement with the media has become progressively more virulent as the “war on terror” has progressed. BBC Urdu editor Aamer Ahmed Khan asks whether anyone can bring the ISI under control.

Read more » BBC
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13638478

The New 1% isn’t just the Rich, it is the Spoiled Oligarch Heirs (Krugman)

Economist Paul Krugman explains how the United States is becoming an oligarchy – the very system our founders revolted against.

Bill Moyers interviews Paul Krugman

” Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, shows that two-thirds of America’s increase in income inequality over the past four decades is the result of steep raises given to the country’s highest earners.

This week, Bill talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, about Piketty’s “magnificent” new book.

“What Piketty’s really done now is he said, ‘Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on.’ He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth.”

Krugman adds: “We’re seeing inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we’re nothing like.” ”

Courtesy: http://www.juancole.com/2014/04/spoiled-oligarch-krugman.html

New York Times – Critic of Pakistani Military Wounded in Karachi Attack

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist and a critic of the nation’s powerful military, was wounded by gunmen in the southern port city of Karachi on Saturday evening, according to police officials and local news media reports.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but within hours of the attack, Amir Mir, Mr. Mir’s brother, accused the chief of the intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, of being behind it.

In an emotional outburst on Geo TV, the network on which Hamid Mir hosts a popular talk show, Amir Mir assailed the intelligence agency, saying that the ISI “was eating up Pakistan like termites” and accusing its director, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, and other ISI officials of planning to kill Mr. Mir.

He said that his brother had told him about two weeks ago that his life was in danger and that he had recorded a video that had been sent to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A spokesman for the media wing of the Pakistani military, Inter-Services Public Relations, condemned the attack but urged people not to speculate about it.

“An independent inquiry must immediately be carried out to ascertain facts,” the spokesman said. “However, raising allegations against ISI or the head of ISI without any basis is highly regrettable and misleading,”

The attack took place on a busy Karachi street just after 5 p.m. Saturday as Mr. Mir was headed to Geo’s main office.

He was shot three times, according to Karachi police officials, in the lower abdomen and shoulder. He was taken to Aga Khan Hospital, where he underwent surgery, Geo TV reported. His condition was listed as stable. In November 2012, a bomb was found under Mr. Mir’s car in Islamabad, but it did not explode. At the time, suspicions pointed to the Pakistani Taliban, which had singled out Mr. Mir for criticism over his coverage of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist wounded by militants in October 2012.

This is not the first time accusations have been made against the ISI. In 2011, Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter, was found dead some months after he was threatened by intelligence officers.

Mr. Mir has been one of the most vocal critics of the military and intelligence services. He has also criticized the former military leader Pervez Musharraf.

Courtesy: The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/world/asia/critic-of-pakistani-military-wounded-in-karachi-attack.html?_r=0