Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Load Shedding Ver 2.0: Temporarily Postponed

Load Shedding Ver 2.0
Temporarily Postponed

By Zubair Ahmed

After Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd (SPCL), the Independent Power Plant decided to shut down two of its 5 MW DG sets, the Admn has for the time being managed the power crisis by hiring power from here and there. But there is more to the issue that meets the eye.

From the two press notes issued by the Superintending Engineer and the Principal Secretary Power, its apparent from the choice of words that there is a visible fissure between the power centres. In the press note issued by SE, he states that SPCL 'did not' undertake timely overhauling whereas Principal Secretary in the press note states that SPCL 'could not' undertake timely overhauling of their DG sets.

Does the Principal Secretary imply that SPCL could have carried out the overhauling and maintenance, had they been provided with funds? The tone and texture of SE's press note seems more like a blame game, unwilling to settle the dispute with SPCL. Who draws power from where is still a mystery.

The row between the Admn and SPCL is folklore now. No Authority, Tribunal or Commission has been able to break the jinx and provide an amiable solution to the problem. Even after 10 years, various issues related with the fixation of tied up funds and completed cost is still awaiting redressal. The ping-pong between different power centres, frequent threats from the IPP and the knee-jerk reactions from the Administration are all contributing to the mess.

And it seems history is repeating every year. Though the probability of load shedding have been averted this time, the power play has taken a new turn and the issue temporarily postponed.

In South Andaman, the total peak load requirement is 34 MW. With SPCL shutting down 10 MW, the deficit was 4 MW which the Electricity Dept has managed by requisitioning 3 MW extra from the new Hired Power Plant Sudhir Ready Gensets and coaxing New Bharat to resume generating about 2.5 MW. Chatham and Phoenix Bay power houses run by Electricity Dept combined is producing 13 MW and SPCL 5 MW.

While the Administration boasts of bringing two new Hired Power Plants (HPP) - New Bharat and Sudhir Ready with a combined capacity of 15 MW and the commissioning of 5 MW NTPC solar plant, they are another Frankensteins in the making!

In 2012, when a major breakdown in SPCL pushed the whole capital and surrounding areas into darkness, some major decisions were taken to enhance power generation.

To the dismay, New Bharat, the HPP took more than six months to install its 5MW DG sets. The Plant, which failed to keep up with the Agreement was shut down due to fund constraints.

Sudhir Ready, who are providing 10 MW as per the Power Purchase Agreement have an installed capacity of 16 MW. The extra 3 MW came handy in this precarious situation. 

All these steps were supposed to postpone the SPCL crisis with a stern blow on its face for the 2012 blackout.

In fact, out of 20 MW, SPCL was only generating 15 MW since last year, when one of its DG sets broke down. SPCL had sought Rs 5 crore loan recommended by then Superintending Engineer Yameen Murtaza, for undertaking overhauls which was out rightly rejected by the Secretary Power stating that the PPA does not have any provision for loans. No fund was provided to them on account for undertaking maintenance of the DG sets.

"On 18th March this year, Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC) in the public hearing held at Port Blair had ordered the Electricity Dept to pay Rs 10 crores to SPCL for maintenance of its DG sets," said a senior functionary at SPCL. It is however delayed citing umpteen bureaucratic snares.

The whole power sector stinks of egoism and one-upmanship.

After prolonged negotiations last year, Jalaj Shrivastav, Secretary Power who had objected to payment of Rs 5 crore as loan to SPCL had assured that the dues pertaining to completed cost and other dues will be cleared without further delay. SPCL was convinced and switched on the DG sets after minor repairs.

But, Jalaj had other objections too and was a bit cynical about the affairs between Yameen Murtaza and SPCL. He also had his own doubts about the new entrant New Bharat, with whom Electricity Dept had inked a Power Purchase Agreement for 5 MW. Deadlines after deadlines violated by New Bharat, finally after installation, it could not generate more than 3 MW. The IPP was taken for task and penalties imposed on them. The plant was virtually dead.

From the outset, it was quite obvious that a new divide had developed between Secretary Power and former Superintending Engineer. After the March 2012 blackout and the peeved New Bharat affair, the divide further widened.

With PPA signed with Sudhir Ready for 10 MW containerized DG sets, the Admn had found a way out from the SPCL quandary. But to keep his promise, Jalaj had initiated the process of clearing SPCL dues. By now, the new Chief Secretary, another eternal cynic had taken charge. With advice from his loyals including Yameen Murtaza and Secretary Law, wary of the orders passed by Central Electricity Authority (CEA), he put a brake. The SPCL file once again was put on backburner with CS chewing over the issue.

The roof-top solar project for govt. buildings mooted by Jalaj Shrivastav became another bone of contention between him and the Chief Secretary. He was keenly pursuing the matter and just before the bid process, the Chief Secretary, apprehensively stalled it and sought a review.  

By the appearance of Sudhir Ready on the scene installing 16 containerized DG sets of 1 MW  each, the Secretary Power in a way had conquered the battle of deficit. But, could not keep his promise to SPCL.

The 5 MW NTPC solar plant, a major breakthrough in the renewable energy sector, was commissioned in a record time. However, its commissioning did not receive the kind of publicity or fanfare that the Admn  normally accords to a bridge or fish market opening.

Even though, Solar Power connected to the grid is a day affair with a 9 to 5 timeframe and the peak output somewhere near 3 MW, it is one positive development. Otherwise, with excessive reliance on Independent and Hired Power Plants and Admn's lackadaisical approach in improving its own power plants, which are all performing sub-optimally, there seems to be streak of darkness at the end of the tunnel.

The containerized DG sets installed by Sudhir Ready are not the kind meant for base load. Their forte has been corporate companies in the NCR. Moreover, no one can rule out the possibility of the new hired power plants turning hostile whenever they too come under the same kind of bureaucratic power plays.

If next time, we face load shedding, it wont be due to shortage of power, but mistrust and bureaucratic leg pulling in the corridors of power.