After sporadic unscheduled power cuts in several towns, it’s now official that “power-surplus” Punjab is resorting to cuts much earlier than the outage-heavy paddy season this year.
Owing primarily to the coal shortage that has hit electricity generation at its thermal plants, the ‘official’ power cuts of this summer started on Saturday, as the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) imposed three-hours cuts in the Kandi areas and two-hour cuts in the villages.
Unscheduled cuts ranging from half to one hour in urban areas continue. Also, with the demand rising, the corporation has had to purchase power on high rates from outside resources.
Because of shortage of coal — a payment dispute with the supplier has been resolved only temporarily — seven of the 14 thermal units of the three state-owned power plants are not operating. On Monday, the PSPCL purchased 57 lakh units at Rs. 3.96 per unit.
Usually, cuts start in the paddy season when peak demand nears 10,000 MW. This time, the PSPCL has started outages even when demand is near 5,000 MW.
“And if the monsoon is not good, peak summer will present a challenge,” said an official, admitting on the condition of anonymity that “though the state government claims that two plants have come up, the reality is that only 660 MW power from Rajpura has been added”.
“The Talwandi sabo plant is not expected to start operating before the end of June.” After inaugurating Talwandi Sabo and Rajpura plants months ago, the SAD-BJP government had declared Punjab power-surplus and promised a summer without cuts.
But the PSPCL in the first week of May called tenders to purchase 2,000 MW for the summer under short-term agreements.
As per the schedule of the PSPCL, the state’s demand on Sunday, May 18, was 1,095 lakh units, while supply was 1,083, so cuts had to be imposed.
On May 16, cuts had to the PSPCL was unable to bridge a gap of 34 lakh units; and on May 17 cuts were imposed to restrict the demand that was 7 lakh units above availability.
On Sunday, the corporation purchased 609 lakh units as one unit at Bathinda and could not be restarted after engineers refused to work beyond their working hours.
The engineers are on a ‘work to rule’ protest against the extension given to the PSPCL chairman-cum-managing director (CMD).
Meanwhile, the coal crisis that started in April remains only partly resolved. Against a demand of six rakes daily, Panem Coal Mines, the firm that sells PSPCL its coal from a mine in Jharkhand, is sending only two.
The matter is stuck over Panem’s demand of 100 per tonne hike in the price earlier agreed upon, apart from 6 crore daily as railway freight.
A PSPCL committee had referred the matter for legal opinion, and the final decision is expected on Tuesday.Despite several attempts, PSPCL CMD KD Chaudhri was not available for comments.
But PSPCL director (distribution) KL Shar ma admitted that the corporation had imposed cuts, saying that the situation had arisen as demand was fluctuating because of change in weather.
“Sometimes the demand slips to 2,000 MW and then it reaches 5,000 MW. We can’t operate all units in such a situation, as we cannot waste resources. So, sometimes the PSPCL imposes minor cuts, and sometimes purchases power from outside,” he told HT, claiming, “Once the demand stabilises, we will start all the plants.
There is no severe coal crisis.” He, however, failed to promise a cut-free summer: “It depends on the demand-and-supply rule and the monsoon. We are hoping the Talwandi Sabo plant will ease the situation June onwards.”