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Withering in darkness

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If no heed is paid for generation, power cuts will get longer

The State Government Energy department announces the reduction of power cuts to one hour, which was in force in twin cities from the first week of August, has proved to be short-lived with the government reverting to the four-hour cuts now. “The power supply situation has deteriorated. There is no alternative for us but to revert to power cuts,” an official of the Central Power Distribution Company Limited said. With demand far outstripping supply and power shortage peaking upwards of 60 MU and no capacity addition in generation in sight, problems of power cuts is not going away soon.

There is fear that power cuts may extend to four to five hours in cities like Vijayawada, Tirupati, Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry and Warangal. The suburbs of Hyderabad are already facing two-three additional power cuts in addition to the scheduled announcements. The industry which is suffering from power crisis is increased holidays for staff and exploring change in shift timings to work in non-peak hours – read night akin to BPOs. Loss of productivity, employment, income and work orders are an important by product of this shortage but who is listening.

Political parties across party lines continue to stage old-fashioned dharna & protests with lanterns, rasta roko demanding 7-hour power supply to agriculture & shed crocodile tears for farmers. The State Energy Conservation Mission has pronounced some lofty ideas for energy conservation in government offices – switch off AC, tube lights, fans when “NOT AT WORK” among others. Are we looking at the wrong end of the problem and hence unable to find a solution or we don’t want to find a solution??

Why is nobody talking about the crisis in power generation – irrespective of the fuel; be it thermal, hydro, nuclear or alternate like wind, solar etc? The generation targets set by the Planning Commission for Five Year Plans is invariably off by a cool 50% every year and adds up for the next and currently is around 100000 MW across all sources – but not happening. WHY??

The promotion of renewable energy is welcome and should be encouraged BUT only as supplement. With governments and corporate sector struggling in land acquisition process of power plants, how will large tracts of land required for solar energy plants of 8-10 acres per MW be acquired when 0.8 acre per MW for a coal-fired thermal power plant is mired in controversies? Issue of scale also needs to be taken into account when promoting renewable energy because generating 1000 MW solar is not possible in same area where a 1000 MW thermal plant can be set up. Also, the cost of setting up a 1 MW solar plant is Rs 18-20 crore as against Rs 5-6 crore for a 1 MW coal plant. This dynamic in promoting renewable energy needs to be factored and also when rubbishing coal-fired plants in name of pollution. Its economics not pollution that works!!

Land acquisition, a whole bunch of government clearances from forest, municipal, railways, airport, revenue etc and approval for fuel allocation, financial closure and equipment supply is the long list of to-do list for any power producer to set up a plant. Assuming one has achieved all this, the actual ground reality hits!!

The local populace needs to be convinced of the need for setting up a power plant and its socio-economic benefits that will accrue to them for giving their land for this project and even before consultations have started – green army lands up to state that the project pollutes and environmentalists are just waiting at your gate to add to your pile of woes. If any investor is still willing to stick his neck out to fight these demons to set up the plant – the Government which initially welcomes them with open arms to set up a plant – immediately washes their hands off their responsibilities and leaves the poor investor to fend for himself without any support to handle the situation.

By this stage – the entrepreneur, bankers and govt. besides the actual stakeholders around the proposed power plant are entangled in a large number of issues ranging from compensation, fudged records, allegations of land being usurped, political & local populace demands that put the project in a bind. Nobody is willing to stand up to address the concerns or issues plaguing the project and instead busy with passing the buck – entrepreneur is stranded with huge debt, equipment lying in the nearest port and bankers chasing him for his monthly interest on the public funds raised through banks & FIs but no progress at the actual site.

Seminars & debates on power crisis by industry bodies like CII, Ficci and TV channels & newspapers rule roost thereafter crying hoarse on power cuts and issues with setting up power plants but not addressing the issue of handling power shortage!!

We will get to a situation where governments will announce schedules of available power supply of 4-6 hours instead of power cuts of that tune if no heed is paid to generation issues. Its time policy makers, private or government power producers, bankers and civil society sit together and agree to disagree on certain issues to wriggle out of this crisis of power shortage.


Even generators & inverters need power to charge – will run out of even that if generation is not addressed

Till such time – everybody can just wait for power supply to come for short period to follow their routine – wither in darkness!! Inverters and power generators are welcome but we need power to charge them as well.


In climate-change debate, business interests and green activism often converge

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In May, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made media waves with a new report on renewable energy. As in the past, the IPCC first issued a short summary; only later would it reveal all of the data. So it was left up to the IPCC’s spin-doctors to present the take-home message for journalists. The first line of the IPCC’s press release declared, “Close to 80% of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies.”

That story was repeated by media organisations worldwide. Last month, the IPCC released the full report, together with the data behind this startlingly optimistic claim. Only then did it emerge that it was based solely on the most optimistic of 164 modelling scenarios that researchers investigated. The claim rested on the assumption of a large reduction in global energy use. Given the number of people climbing out of poverty in China and India, that is a deeply implausible scenario. When the IPCC first made the claim, global-warming activists and renewable-energy companies cheered.

This sort of behaviour – with activists and big energy companies uniting to applaud anything that suggests a need for increased subsidies to alternative energy – was famously captured by the so-called “bootleggers and Baptists” theory of politics. The theory grew out of the experience of the southern US, where many jurisdictions required stores to close on Sunday, thus preventing the sale of alcohol. The regulation was supported by religious groups for moral reasons, but also by bootleggers, because they had the market to themselves on Sundays. Politicians would adopt the Baptists’ pious rhetoric, while quietly taking campaign contributions from the criminals. Of course, today’s climate-change “bootleggers” are not engaged in any illegal behaviour. But the self-interest of energy companies, biofuel producers, insurance firms, lobbyists, and others in supporting “green” policies is a point that is often missed. Indeed, the “bootleggers and Baptists” theory helps to account for other developments in global warming policy over the past decade or so.

For example, the Kyoto Protocol would have cost trillions of dollars, but would have achieved a practically indiscernible difference in stemming the rise in global temperature. Yet activists claimed that there was a moral obligation to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, and were cheered on by businesses that stood to gain. During the ill-fated Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009, Denmark’s capital city was plastered with slick ads urging the delegates to make a strong deal – paid for by Vestas, the world’s largest windmill producer. Oil tycoon T Boone Pickens , a famous convert to environmentalism, drafted a “plan” to increase America’s reliance on renewables. Of course, he would also have been one of the major investors in the wind-power and natural-gas companies that would benefit from government subsidies. Traditional energy giants like BP and Shell have championed their “green” credentials, while standing to profit from selling oil or gas instead of environmentally “unfriendly” coal.

Even US electricity giant Duke Energy, a major coal consumer, won green kudos for promoting a US cap-and-trade scheme. But the firm ended up opposing the draft legislation to create such a scheme, because it did not provide sufficient free carbon-emission permits for coal companies. Dubious claims by faithful activists gave rise to the biofuels industry (with supporting lobbyists).

Biofuel production likely increases atmospheric carbon, owing to the massive deforestation that it requires, while crop diversion increases food prices and contributes to global hunger. While environmentalists have started to acknowledge this, the industry received a lot of activist support when it began – and neither agribusiness nor green-energy producers have any interest in changing course now. Obviously, private firms are motivated by self-interest, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. But, too often, we hear commentators suggest that when Greenpeace and Big Business agree on something, it must be a sensible option. Business support for expensive policies such as the Kyoto Protocol – which would have done very little for climate change – indicates otherwise.

The climate-change “Baptists” provide the moral cover that politicians can use to sell regulation, along with scary stories that the media can use to attract readers or viewers. Businesses see opportunities for taxpayer-funded subsidies, and to pass on inevitable cost growth to consumers.

Unfortunately, this convergence of interests can push us to focus on ineffective, expensive responses to climate change. Whenever opposite political forces attract, as activists and big business have in the case of global warming, there is a high risk that the public interest will be caught in the middle.

(The author is the head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center)

Written by schelluri

July 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm