The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) of the Union Ministry of Power has forecast that India will be in a surplus power position this year. The CEA in its annual Load Generation Balance Report (LGBR) – a compilation of a nationwide anticipated electricity requirement and availability – for the year 2016-2017 predicts that the country is likely to experience an energy surplus of 1.1% and peak surplus of 2.6%.
Fact vs Fiction
As per the data generated by the CEA, the anticipated surplus energy is tipped at 13,252 MU (million units). The supply position is further tipped to exceed peak demand by 4250 MW. In the light of the anticipated situation of availability and supply surpassing requirement and demand, the Union Minister of State for Power, Piyush Goyal had recently announced in the Rajya Sabha that it will be a first for India to witness a situation of surplus energy.
Translating this state-wise is an altogether different story with Nagaland being a case in point. While the Central government paints a rosy picture of surplus energy, its federating unit Nagaland is reeling under a situation of never-ending electricity crisis. As per the LGBR data, Nagaland will face an energy deficit of 15 percent or -127MU against a requirement of 849MU for the year 2016-17. It, however, will fare better on the supply side with peak availability tipped at 145MW against a peak demand of 140MW.
This, however, does not necessarily entail that its 2.55 lakhs metered consumers will receive sufficient and uninterrupted power supply, a fact evident from the State’s existing power transmission and distribution infrastructure. According to engineers of the Nagaland Power department, who wished their identities be kept confidential, there have been no corresponding equipment upgrades to meet the demand growth of 10 percent per annum. This apparently is pushing the existing distribution system to the brink of breaking.
A majority of the distribution paraphernalia in place today was installed back in the 1970s when the demand was less than half of the projected 140MW peak demand at present. The total installed load capacity of the State at present stands at 174 Mva. Meeting the projected peak demand of 140MW can only happen when the State has in place a well-built distribution network ranging from equipment as basic as electric poles to distribution transformers and other fittings. ‘Keeping up with the growing demand for electricity requires coordinated and proportionate upgrading of distribution equipments to prevent over-loading and blackouts,’ asserts an engineer of the department.
How to Power Up?
Now, what can possibly be preventing the department from initiating a transformation of the distribution set up, one may further ask? Government apathy has emerged to be the chief factor, among a list of problems, for the State’s energy crisis. While theft and pilferage continue to remain an unchecked menace, government funding to the department for operations, maintenance and upgrades has been dipping year after year. The department engineers assert that it is running on a shoe-string budget with the annual fund allocated by the government rarely meeting the demands of exigencies as in breakdowns, repairs and replacements.
On the other hand, the government disputes that it is spending crores running into hundreds annually on the power sector. While acknowledging the government’s argument, an engineer of the power department maintained that there is a clear distinction between maintenance cost and spending on buying power. ‘The government is misguided to think that the money spent on buying power is contributing to upkeep of infrastructure. These are two different working units’.
The urgency is further amplified against a backdrop of frequent and extended supply interruptions occurring across the State the degree of demand notwithstanding. A spate of extended blackouts has occurred in the past year alone in the Mokokchung, Kiphire and Pfutsero districts, which are essentially low power consumption districts. Distribution transformers conking out have become daily affairs in the urban hub of Dimapur. The problems point to a phase-wise, if not total, overhaul of the existing power distribution infrastructure backed up by unrelenting funding from the government.
Spending Dips in Power Sector
From Rs 124 crore in 2008-09, fund allocation to the department fell to Rs 7 crore in 2015-16 to marginally increase to Rs 12 crore for the year 2016-17. Further, the engineers disclosed that the dipping annual allocations are not in tune with the State government’s assured proposal to pump in Rs 707 into the power sector over a 5-year period beginning 2013-14 to 2018-19.
It is forecast that breakdowns would become more frequent and costlier if the distribution system is allowed to perform in its current state. With no consolidated fund to meet exigencies, sourcing replacements or spares will become lengthy affairs, which would translate into extended periods of blackouts. Further, allowing it to continue would mean expenses quadrupling if at all an attempt is made to revitalise the power sector in future. The gravity of the predicament calls for urgency on the part of the State Government to give priority to the power sector, a sector essential to economic growth and industrialisation.
By Imkong Walling