How Tamil Nadu's electricity problems can be solved

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 29, 2012 04:57 hrs

It is a sweaty problem. Scheduled power cuts of longer duration are a certainty in the coming months in Chennai and elsewhere in the state.

Smaller industries will likely be hit harder thanks to the proposed load shedding. Already people have had to face scheduled daily power cuts, one hour in Chennai and up to eight hours in the districts.

Load-shedding, a term one normally associates only with Kolkata is now a way of life in the state.
In the 80s and 90s, water scarcity kept citizens of Chennai awake and got them to preserve every ounce of drinking water.

That situation has changed now, and water supply and management has not been a problem in the last few years.

Can power supply pull off a similar success story?

At present, it appears to be a daunting task.

Power deficit, which was around 1500MW in 2009, has more than trebled in the last three years. In fact, three years ago, going by official statements, on paper, it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the state became 'self-sufficient' in 2011 and a state with surplus power in 2012.

Delayed projects

Officials were banking on a number of projects, which would generate 14,000 MW of power, from thermal, nuclear and other power projects.

This included the 2000 MW of power from the first phase of the Koodankulam nuclear power project (KKNP), 4000 MW from renewable energy such as wind (3000MW projected to be harvested by the wind turbines) and 6000 MW from public sector projects.

Expansion plans for thermal stations in North Chennai (1200MW) and Mettur (600MW) were part of these calculations in 2009, as stated by the then Electricity Minister Arcot N Veerasamy in the Assembly.

Also in the making were the 1200 MW capacity thermal project in Vallur, which was projected to generate 1000MW initially, the 1600 MW Udangadi , another thermal power plant, and a coal based power project at Tuticorin, capable of generating 1000 MW.

Most of these should have been completed by 2011. But the projects have got delayed, with the KKNP turning out to be a big challenge.

Poor infrastructure

Opposition to the nuke project from residents in the district became all the more fierce after the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant in March last year. The project, already delayed for various reasons, continues to be gridlocked.

Other commissioned projects are likely to deliver only after the peak summer of May and June.

The debt-laden TNEB is also running under aging infrastructure, and considering that major projects have been announced only in the last few years — after 1996 — the state clearly needs to switch to upgraded equipments.

Appeals to the central government have to be made as often as possible for a helping hand.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) is in debt, owing close to Rs 10,000 crore to its suppliers (many of the power generators are joint ventures with the public limited companies) in the state.

With an official commitment by successive governments to give free supply of electricity to farmers and armed forces (nearly 20 lakh and 12 lakh connections respectively), the issue has gotten more complicated.

With power theft and illegal connections very much a reality  — as in any city in the country — the need to balance power generation and distribution is paramount.

What can be done?

A quick resolution to the KKNP impasse, and finishing up on planned projects should ensure a quick fix to the problems on the supply side.

Also, the viability of the envisaged power plants — the 1200MW at Tuticorin by a private player, the 1300MW thermal plant at Cuddalore (again by a private entity), the 4000MW plant at Kancheepuram and the 1600 MW at Jayamkondan — should be looked at.

More private players should be invited and encouraged to invest not just in the plant, but also in state-of-the-art infrastructure.

No bailout sum can wipe out a debt of Rs 10,000 crore in the short term, so authorities have to plan for the long haul.

While nothing much can be done about sops, a lot can be done if theft is addressed.

RTI (Right To Information) activists can play a more positive role in exposing such trails. Area-wise accountability is also not something we see in the public domain. However, residents can play a more pro active role in being more vigilant about such thefts.

A dedicated 24x7 complaint line for reporting illegal connections — which can be verified on the spot — would go a long way in discouraging more such perpetrators.
The proposed tariff hike by the electricity regulatory authority (to be finalised by March) should be undertaken, and segments should be created in a manner that addresses all strata of society.

Between 2001 and 2011, Chennai's population increased by three lakh (source: 2011 census). The city has not seen a major industrial or entrepreneurial influx, with the hotel and eateries industry being an exception.

Apart from the heavy consumption of electricity by the automobile sector, the use of electrical appliances such as mixer, grinders and electronic items have also grown massively in the state. All these issues lead to frequent outages which serve to only cause more outrage.

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