Science and Technology Planning Commission member Samar Mubarakmand said that the Thar Coal Project would become operational in December 2013.
This is good news for Pakistan's government, which remains largely dependent on energy imports, The News Online reported Wednesday.
During an interview with the state-run PTV television channel, Mubarakmand stated that electricity generated from the Thar gasified coal plant would have a minimal cost and that Pakistan has sufficient coal reservoirs to provide electricity for the nation for five centuries, The News Online said.
Mubarakmand's optimism was countered by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who has held Mubarakmand responsible for the pace of work on the delayed Thar coal project.
"Frankly speaking, Dr. Mubarakmand's work is slow," Shah said during a news conference Wednesday in Hyderabad.
The Sindh government has divided the Thar project into eight coal-mining blocks, with Block-V was given to Mubarakmand, a former nuclear scientist, for the underground coal gasification facility.
Mubarakmand stated that work on the Thar project was progressing and the first 50-megawatt gasified project was almost completed. The project had been approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council in 2010.
Two years ago the Central Development Working Party approved Mubarakmand's two projects: "the creation of new processing facilities (for production of coal gas by underground coal gasification)" and "the creation of new processing facilities (for handling and purification of the natural gas)."
At the time Mubarakmand expressed optimism that the project's success could encourage foreign investment by premier foreign companies involved with the development of gasification of coal reserves, telling journalists that several foreign companies had shown interest in the project.
Since then however the Thar project has largely only attracted the interest of foreign consultants, with the sole investment interest being with the exception of Pakistan's Engro Corp., which has obtained an exploration bloc.
In addition, British consultant Oracle Coalfields is preparing a feasibility report and Cougar Energy are interested, while Canadian company SNC Lavalin Environment Inc. is analyzing the costs of the Thar's project required transmission lines.
A recent report by energy analytical company Wood Mackenzie on Southeast Asia's future energy sources reported that coal will be its top priority up to 2020 or even beyond, given its regional availability, despite popular perceptions that natural gas will be the region's top fuel.