The focal point of the much-hyped China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the port city of Gwadar. Apart from being the transit destination of goods from China, the city will eventually be home to industrial zones. Although the current port power requirement is being met by the 4.5 MW power plant which is run on furnace oil, port expansion and Free Zone development ultimately depend on the pace of utility provision that includes not just electricity but water as well.

Yet, the planned 300MW plant is in the air with the capacity finalization also done after a great deal of debate. Mr. Dostain Khan Jamaldini, who is head of the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) emphasized in a recent interview with BR Research that the 300MW coal fired power plant is still on paper.

The GPA has urged the Ministry of Water and Power (MOWP) to start it on a war footing basis since 2015 but apparently, the project does not appear as a priority. To give some background context, the ministry has had reservations on the capacity, which it surprisingly deemed excess. Even though it was initially part of the original CPEC fast track, project there has been zero progress.

The most recent update is that the Chinese government has instructed one of its state-owned companies to move ahead with the plant, and the Prime Minister wants work to start before the end of March, 2017. However, completion time ranges from two to three years, which sheds light on the planning prowess of the government institutions in charge of CPEC projects. The more time it takes for the utilities to come online, the more port upgradation and industrial parks will be delayed.

Another pertinent issue that goes hand-in-hand with building a coal fired power plant is the large amount of water required for operational purposes which include cooling. The currently installed 100,000 gallons per day desalination plant is hardly sufficient for the coal power plant, city and port use as well as industrial parks.

Unfortunately, the two million gallons per day desalination plant costing over a billion rupees, which was funded by the Federal Government and implemented by the Baluchistan Government has been shut down due to a technical fault. The Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) has proposed a five million gallon per day desalination plant but as is the case with the majority of planned initiatives it is also still on paper.

Interestingly, there is also another potential angle at play in the provision of utilities to Gwadar and its adjoining areas. This involves the setting up of a steel plant by the state-owned China Baowu Steel Group Corporation, China’s largest steel producer by both installed capacity and production. (Read: CPEC: Waiting for Ba Tie Bao, published January 16, 2017). However, the project portfolio also includes an energy park, industrial parks, a sizeable residential colony and a desalination plant.

The logical conclusion that this column arrives at then is that eventually when the Baowu Group comes. it will be able to supply its excess water and power to Gwadars planned residential and industrial neighbourhoods.

Lastly, even though demand forecasts have been made by the GDA and GPA, coordination between the two bodies as well as with Chinese counter-parts is found to be wanting. For although there appears to be planning and a lot of proposals, yet a definitive answer to how Gwadar and the adjoining projects will be powered is still elusive