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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.

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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.