It is an industry often derided as one founded on tax-breaks and growing on them. Yet, if Tamil Nadu, reeling under serial load-shedding of up to 10 hours a day over the last few months, was spared power cuts on some days last week, it was thanks to the same industry — wind-power. Early onset of monsoon winds in the southern districts of the State set the wind mills spinning, and helped bridge the yawning power deficit substantially. With an estimated 6,300 mega watts, Tamil Nadu accounts for 40 per cent of total capacity for wind power generation in the country and in many ways can be said to be the pioneer in the field. Even so, the State government's reluctance to support the industry meant that it could not develop to its potential. Investment in transmission lines to evacuate power from wind farms, for instance, has not been adequate, leading to under-utilisation of capacity. Wind power generators have also been asking the government to fully utilise their capacities during the wind season, which corresponds to the monsoon season, but they have invariably been asked to ‘back-down' in favour of other, more stable sources. It is an irony that the partial relief for the State on the power front came from an industry that it did not support.
Tamil Nadu's experience is instructive and points to the need to cultivate and nurture all sources of power, more so the renewable ones such as wind and solar. Granted that these are unpredictable, especially wind, which is also seasonal. That is where the challenge lies for policymakers. The complaint is that recouping investment in transmission lines that evacuate wind power takes longer as they are used only for a few months in a year. Besides, sharp surges and dips between seasons and even during the season — a prime characteristic of wind power — make it impossible for power managers to manage the grid. Yet, such problems can be handled easily if the States in the southern grid, where wind power capacity is concentrated, cooperate. The higher generation during the wind season can be shared while backing down costlier thermal generation stations without affecting grid stability. This is easier to accomplish in a larger, regional grid than in a smaller State grid where backing down a large thermal station could lead to instability, especially if wind generation dips suddenly. Such cooperation will also lead to fall in the rather high tariffs that States pay for unscheduled drawals from the grid. The lesson really is that policymakers should treat wind and other renewable sources as integral parts of the power generation system rather than as outliers to fall back upon only when conventional sources fail.