Managers of power utilities justify preferential treatment to Chennai

The return of 12-hour load shedding in many parts of the State, excluding Chennai, has again brought to the fore the debate on restructuring the present system of load shedding.

A few days ago, the Coimbatore Consumer Cause went on record stating that it would soon approach the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC). Its plea is simple: frame a scheme of load shedding that provides for equal treatment of all parts of the State.

The problem of lopsided load shedding is not just confined to Coimbatore. Many other cities, including Tiruchi and Madurai, are also subjected to 12-14 hour load shedding. Even areas closer to Chennai such as Nemillicherry and Kancheepuram are not spared.

Some consumers also point out that a few years ago, say in 2010, the duration of load shedding was four to six hours. But, that has doubled or trebled across the State, even while Chennai seems to get kid-glove treatment.

However, the situation is not as simple as it is sometimes made out to be and no quick fix solutions can be offered, say managers of the State power utilities - Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco) and Transmission Corporation (Transco).

In defence of the preferential treatment to Chennai, the power managers point to two broad factors. One, Chennai, being the capital city, cannot be equated with other cities and towns while its load is much higher. On an average, the demand is 2,000 MW. Needless to say, the periphery of Chennai has seen greater number of industrial units than those of other cities. In support of their position, they say that a similar treatment is being given to capital cities of other States.

The second reason is apprehension among engineers of the utilities that in Chennai, given the fact that the distribution network is congested, it is not advisable to implement longer duration of load shedding. There may be more breakdowns of transformers or other facilities when power supply is resumed after a spell of load shedding.

The fundamental problem is the widening gulf between demand and supply, say power managers. Capacity addition has not been in tune with increase in demand. The rise in demand could be attributed directly to the high growth rates that the State posted in the last three years (8.96 per cent in 2009-2010; 11.3 per cent in 2010-2011 and 9.39 per cent in 2011-2012).

Given the fact that the services sector witnessed two-digit growth rate since 2008, it was possible that there had been perceptible changes in the lifestyle of people which, in turn, led to the hike in demand. This was apart from industrial growth which varied from 6.8 to 8 per cent in the three years.

Negligible addition

A perusal of “Statistics at a glance,” a publication brought out recently by the State power utilities, reveals that apart from a marginal rise in the State’s plants, there had been a negligible addition to the State’s share from Central Generating Stations between 2006 and 2011 – 2,837 megawatt to 2,861 MW. Besides these factors, the State is not in a position to buy power as easily now as it did a few years ago. Inter-state transmission corridors too are congested. The drastic reduction of generation of gas-based stations in Andhra Pradesh due to fuel shortage has forced that State government to resort to increased power purchase on a short term basis, bringing the transmission corridor under greater stress.

As per the data of the Central Electricity Authority, energy shortage of Andhra Pradesh was 3 per cent during April-September 2011, whereas it was 16.3 per cent during the corresponding period this year. The figures for Tamil Nadu were 5.5 per cent and 15. Another southern State reeling under power shortage is Karnataka, whose energy shortage went up from 8.1 per cent to 13.6 per cent. To compound the matter, the southern region is not interconnected with other regions in the country and going by present indications, work on interconnectivity will be over only by early 2014.

In addition to the corridor constraints, the cost factor has to be kept in mind too. For short term purchase, the authorities here do not want to go beyond an average cost of Rs. 6 per unit. The situation becomes more complex when Kerala, which requires much less power, indicates its willingness to buy power even at Rs. 20 per unit, another engineer points out.

It is because of these reasons that the government is paying more attention to completion of generation projects in the State and officials are hopeful that at least two thermal power projects –in Vallur and Mettur – will commence sustained generation sooner or later, by when the present problem of load shedding would get eased considerably.