“Increasing load shedding hours in Chennai is inevitable”

With the power crisis reaching catastrophic proportions in southern districts, which are facing as much as 16 to 18 hours of power cut every day, the government departments and officials say no immediate relief is possible without drastic measures.

A policy measure advocated by a wide section of not only the industrial sector but also by government and Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) officials is that the duration of load shedding in Chennai must be increased from the present one hour. While several power plants are slated to be commissioned over the next year, TANGEDCO officials told The Hindu that they might not be adequate to completely bridge the supply-demand gap of over 4,000 MW in the State any time soon.

However, the ruling AIADMK does not seem to be inclined towards this move and the preceding Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) exempted Chennai completely from any load shedding for a long time into the power crisis despite the city being the top consumer of power in the State.

According to highly placed sources, Tamil Nadu’s total average demand is around 10,000 MW, of which Chennai alone consumes 2,800 MW or more than one-fourth. As such, increasing its load shedding to three hours will provide considerable relief to the rest of the State.

Large scale power purchases from the private market are also unlikely as Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) has been preventing TANGEDCO from paying above Rs. 5.50 per unit in view of its heavy debt in excess of Rs.50,000 crore and to prevent frequent tariff revisions. Short-term power purchases in the private market are usually in the range or Rs. 12 to Rs. 13 per unit.

HT consumers

Another measure mooted by some officers of TANGEDCO is ramping up the Restriction and Control measures on High Tension industries by increasing the quantum of power cut for HT industrial units to 60 per cent from 40 per cent. This measure would increase power supply to domestic consumers and the HT units would be able to make up with captive power plants, a TANGEDCO official said.

Another initiative being proposed is reviving the 20 per cent energy cut on Low Tension (LT) and LT Current Transformer (LTCT) industrial services, which was first imposed in 2008 and subsequently scrapped. Besides ensuring that the burden of power crisis was being shared by all segments of the industry, the official said that this move was found to be effective in reducing demand.

Many TANGEDCO officials are against reviving the ‘power holiday’ scheme favoured by industry bodies as it requires ‘self-discipline’ from small industries and a lot of monitoring to ensure compliance. The results of two earlier spells of power holidays were mixed at best.

Another drastic measure being mooted by TANGEDCO officers is reducing the exemptions granted from load shedding to various institutions. A field officer in TANGEDCO explained that exempting an educational institution or a rice mill from power cuts meant that all the consumers supplied by the same feeder were also exempt from power cuts. The only way around this was to install separate feeder to the exempted institution, which, however, would have to bear the expenditure of about Rs. 1 crore.

A controversial measure that is finding favour among a number of TANGEDCO officials is metering free power supply to farmers to calculate consumption of the agriculture sector.

However, this suggestion evoked fierce protests from farmer organisations when it was mooted during TNERC’s public hearings on tariff revision.

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