Groping in the dark

Published : Nov 02, 2012 00:00 IST

Tamil Nadu saw little addition to its power generation capacity in the last 10 years. The political parties that have alternated in power during the period blame each other for the situation.

in Chennai

IF there was one key issue that propelled the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to power in Tamil Nadu in the April 2011 Assembly elections, it was electricity shortage in the State during the previous governments time. In her campaigns, AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa vowed to rid Tamil Nadu of power cuts if her party was voted to power. The promise hit home.

On October 9, 2011, when as Chief Minister she campaigned for the partys candidate M. Paranjothi in the byelection to the Tiruchi West constituency, she said her government had taken steps to reduce power cuts and that the State would be free of electricity shortage from 2012. Six days later, while drumming up support for AIADMK candidates contesting the local body elections in Coimbatore, she repeated the promises.

Today, a year later, power cuts have only increased, going up to 16 hours in most parts of the State where it was three to six hours during the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) regime headed by M. Karunanidhi. All the districts in the State except Chennai, the capital, have been affected; in Chennai it is up to two hours a day.

Power cuts have hit every section of society hard, including farmers, traders, powerloom operators, machine shop owners and workers, doctors, housewives, students, and small and big industrialists. Community water tanks in villages and towns run dry because there is no power to work the motor pumps. Electricity-driven weighing scales lie idle in big commercial establishments. Textile and industrial hubs such as Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Karur and Erode have laid off thousands of workers. There has been a flight of industries and customers from Coimbatore and Tiruppur to places like Ahmedabad, Belgaum, Kolhapur and Kanpur in other States.

Not surprisingly, there have been protests across the State. On September 27, more than 30,000 micro units in Coimbatore remained shut and the entrepreneurs picketed the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) office at Tatabad in the city demanding uninterrupted power supply. At Sundarapuram in the city, 150 workers were taken into police custody. J. James, president of the Tamil Nadu Association of Cottage and Tiny Industries Entrepreneurs, who led the picketing, said the daily turnover of the micro units in Coimbatore had dropped from Rs.30 crore to Rs.2 crore following the power cuts.

On October 3, a bandh brought life to a standstill in the hosiery town of Tiruppur, about 50 km from Coimbatore. In Madurai, about 200 workers of units that manufacture stainless steel utensils blocked traffic near Teppakulam on October 8, protesting against the power cuts and demanding that the State government take steps to draw more power from the Central pool. On two different days in September, women and men blocked the roads near Tiruninravur near Chennai demanding an end to the 18-hour power cut. There were protests at Urappakkam and Ambattur, too, both Chennai suburbs.

Opposition parties such as the DMK, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India have organised rallies attacking the governments inability to tackle the electricity crisis. Theekadir, the CPI(M) organ, has been in the forefront of a campaign highlighting how the power cuts have affected every section of society.

Blame game

Meanwhile, a blame game is on between Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. Each holds the others government responsible for the situation. The fact is that both parties, which have alternated in power in the State for years, are to be equally blamed. For instance, in the five years from March 2006, only 206 MW was added to Tamil Nadus generation capacity. Later, 127.5 MW was added.

One 600 MW unit at Vallur near Chennai was commissioned in March this year and a 600 MW unit at Mettur was commissioned in August, but no sustained generation has been available from these units. Several other projects, which got under way between 2002 and 2011, have not been completed. Besides, projects that were announced have remained on paper.

At the heart of the problem is a 3,500 MW shortage. Tamil Nadus demand for electricity, which is 12,000 MW now, has been going up by 10 per cent every year. The shortage has essentially been of Tamil Nadus own making: it has failed to complete the electricity-generation projects that began six and a half years ago.

The States wind power generation capacity is 7,000 MW, the highest in India. But wind power generation is undependable, as it fluctuates widely from 300 MW to 4,000 MW.

At a conference of State Power Ministers in New Delhi in June 23, 2009, the then Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister, Arcot N. Veerasamy of the DMK, claimed that to reach the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) targets, work was progressing well ahead of schedule on close to 6,000 MW capacity. These, he said, included a 1,200 MW (two units of 600 MW each) project in the North Chennai Thermal Power Station-Stage II; a 600 MW unit at Mettur; a 1,500 MW (3 x 500 MW) plant at Vallur near Chennai; a 1,000 MW (2 x 500 MW) project at Tuticorin; a 1,600 MW (2 x 800 MW) supercritical thermal power plant at Udangudi in Tuticorin district; and small 100 MW hydro electric projects. Most of these units have not been commissioned as yet.

When Karunanidhi was Chief Minister, on October 26, 2007, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) and Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up the Udangudi project. Subsequently, on December 26, 2008, they formed a joint venture company, Udangudi Power Corporation Limited. A private partner was to be roped in for the project. It was announced that the project with a capital outlay of Rs.8,500 crore would start functioning from 2011, increasing power availability in the State. However, the project remained in limbo until Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced on February 24, 2012, that the TNEB would implement the project by itself, with financial support from the State government. One of the reasons for the non-implementation of the project was the lack of cooperation from BHEL, she alleged in a statement on that day.

Arcot Veerasamy had also told the Power Ministers conference that the Tamil Nadu government had approved the setting up of a 660 MW plant at Ennore, near Chennai, and a 1,200 MW (2 x 600 MW) power plant at Kattupalli, also near Chennai. Preliminary work in respect of these has also commenced, he said. In addition, a 500 MW expansion project of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) is likely to be commissioned next year-end, he had said.

The two units (2 x 1,000 MW) of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project were expected to begin generation by the end of 2009, and Tamil Nadus share from the two units would be 925 MWe. In-principle clearances had also been obtained for a 4,000 MW ultra-mega power project at Cheyyur in Kancheepuram district, to be set up by the Power Finance Corporation, and for a lignite-based 1,600 MW project at Jayamkondam in Perambalur district, to be built by the NLC, he had said.

Thus the total capacity addition including share from the Central generating stations planned to be achieved during the Eleventh Plan period will be 1,157 MW during 2009-2010, 1,459 MW in 2010-2011 and 2,292 MW in 2011-2012, Veerasamy had said.

But not much has been added to the State grid. The Kattupalli project is yet to take off. The first unit at Kudankulam will come on stream only by the end of October/November 2012; the Cheyyur project has not seen the light of day; and the NLC management itself is not hopeful of executing the Jayamkondam project because it is in a populated area with a number of schools and colleges. Besides, several cases have been filed against the project.

At the inauguration of the Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation on December 14, 2009, the then Chief Minister Karunanidhi blamed the previous AIADMK government for not doing its duty in stepping up power generation to meet the increasing demand from industrialists and farmers. So his government had been compelled to buy electricity from other States and from the Central pool, he said.

To change this situation, when this [DMK] government took over in 2006, it planned to raise the power generation capacity from 10,214 MW to 15,152 MW, Karunanidhi said. Speaking about the schemes that Veerasamy had earlier listed on June 23, 2009, he said: Since this [DMK] government has approved these projects for a total generation of 5,900 MW and the work is being executed continuously, our generation will touch 15,152 MW by the end of 2012.

But the generation capacity in the State at the end of October 2012 is only 10,369 MW, and this includes the Central allotment of 3,261 MW.

While presenting the revised Budget for the State for 2011-2012, AIADMK Finance Minister O. Panneerselvam said on August 4, 2011, that Tamil Nadu, which was power surplus during the earlier regime of Jayalalithaa, slipped into a severe power deficit during the previous DMK government. The actual capacity addition in the last five years was only 206 MW. Therefore, it is the topmost priority of this government to augment power supply.

State Electricity Minister Natham R. Viswanathan, too, jumped into the fray and accused the Centre of cheating Tamil Nadu of its due share of power from the Central pool. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is not to be blamed for the electricity shortage prevailing in Tamil Nadu, he said in Tiruchi on September 28. He alleged that the Centre did not heed Jayalalithaas request to provide an additional 1,000 MW from the Central pool and said that it did not supply 1,100 MW of Tamil Nadus entitlement of 2,950 MW from the Central pool. Again, on October 4, in Coimbatore, he accused the Centre of whittling down Tamil Nadus due share of power from the Central pool. Besides, Viswanathan alleged, the Centre had been unhelpful to the State in coal allocation.

Politics of power

In a hard-hitting statement, PMK founder Dr S. Ramadoss alleged that the State government was blaming the low wind power generation for the power cut, claiming that Tamil Nadu was now getting only 300 MW of power from windmills instead of an estimated generation of 4,000 MW. Even a layman knows that generation of electricity from windmills is possible only from May to August. It was also a known fact that there is no room for hydel generation because of the prevailing drought. The government, therefore, should have taken precautionary steps, he said.

Ramadoss recalled how Jayalalithaa, in her reply to the Governors address in the Assembly on February 4, 2012, had said that the first unit (500 MW) of the Vallur coal-fired project and the 600 MW unit of the Mettur Thermal Power Project would be commissioned by March 2012. It was also said that the first 300 MW unit of the North Chennai Thermal Power Project-Stage II and another unit (500 MW) of the Vallur Thermal Power Project would begin electricity generation by June 2012, he pointed out. All this would make available 1,950 MW more of electricity by June 2012, she had said. However, Ramadoss said, not even one MW has been generated from these units. It is clear that no government has taken steps to ward off the power cut.

Jayalalithaa, in her reply, said if the DMK regime had implemented the projects proposed during her earlier governmentsuch as the Vallur project, the NLC-TNEB joint venture project at Tuticorin, and the 500 MW Kundah hydro electric projectthe State would have received another 3,000 MW.

Asked when the State would be free of power cuts, an engineer with TANGEDCO raised his hands towards the sky and muttered, God alone knows. Its officials blamed the delay in the supply of equipment by BHEL, their erection and the construction of civil works for the coal-fired units not being started up on schedule. BHELs orders [for turbines] are overbooked. Besides, a lot of projects are under way all over India. Manufacturing of equipment, its supply and erection, everything is getting delayed. That is the main reason. So many projects got under way in the Eleventh Plan period and more are coming up now in the Twelfth Plan period, not only in Tamil Nadu but everywhere. So the manufacturers orders are overbooked, he said.

TANGEDCO engineers are confident that the quantum of power cut would come down in three months. The first unit of the North Madras Thermal Power ProjectStage II is expected to start generating 600 MW within three months and the second unit (600 MW) within six months. Full generation (a unit of 660 MW) of power from the Mettur Thermal Power Station-Stage-3 is expected in another three months.

State government officials said the delay in the construction of the coal-handling facility by BHEL was the reason for the three units not being started up on time. The NLC-TNEB joint venture project of two coal-fired units of 500 MW at Tuticorin are closely following each other, TANGEDCO engineers said, with the first expected to start generation in July 2013 and the second a month later. They are confident that the Udangudi project will proceed at a fast clip, with Jayalalithaa having decided that it will have no private partner and that it will be fully implemented by the Tamil Nadu government. It will be a 100 per cent TANGEDCO project, said the engineer. Land is available. Seven hundred acres of land has already been acquired. It is government [poromboke] land. It is in one parcel. It will be a coal-fired power station on the coast.

Environmental clearance has been obtained for the 4,000 MW coal-fired project to come up beyond the salt pans at Cheyyur, off the East Coast Road, in Kancheepuram district. An ultra-mega project by the Power Finance Corporation of India, it will come under case two bidding, that is, it will be built by a private party and State utilities wanting to buy electricity from the units should sign a power purchasing agreement with the builder.

To a question where the flamingos which flock to the waters near the salt pans at Cheyyur will go when the project becomes a reality, a TANGEDCO official replied wryly: The flamingos will continue to come there!

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