On a power trip
Nothing exemplifies the sort of constraints the fast-growing Indian economy runs up against than the shortage of power and frequent tripping of regional grids. There is a close association between economic growth and power generation. So, if the economy is to keep growing at 8.8 per cent per annum, a commensurate growth in power supply is necessary. Current peaking shortages of 15 per cent and energy shortages of 8.4 per cent are bad enough. Last Friday, the northern power grid sent out an ominous reminder of what is in store during the sweltering summer months ahead when 50 transmission lines tripped in the states of Delhi, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh due to fog and pollution. Many parts of north India were, literally, powerless for as much as 12 hours. Seventy-two hours later, 35 lines tripped again. In Delhi — that generates only one-fourths of the power it consumes — Metro and train services were affected. So, too, was water supply before the situation was brought under control. Unless checked, the bad news is that this problem can only recur and even result in a total collapse of the Northern grid.
For starters, better maintenance of transmission facilities in the Northern grid is imperative. Fog and pollution contributed to making the transmission lines moist and dust-laden. The result? Short circuits that set off tripping. The frustrating part is that solutions are well known — use of helicopters for cleaning these lines — but are not implemented. What is truly disturbing in this regard are reports that the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, that owns and operates transmission lines, had indeed identified the very lines that had tripped for cleaning due to their previous history of breakdowns. But maintenance was postponed due to the unavailability of choppers.
More important, capacity additions to power generation, especially for Delhi must be fast-forwarded as it is hopelessly dependent on power purchased from other states and thus is highly vulnerable when outstation power plants trip. Plans to set up plants in the Capital have been in the air for a while but there wasn’t a sense of urgency in the past to implement them. But times appear to be a-changing with welcome reports that the 1,500 mw gas-based plant proposed at Bawana is expected to become operational by 2010. Similarly, the 1,500 mw super thermal power project at Jhajjar in Haryana — of which Delhi’s share is 750 mw — is also likely to be commissioned two years from now. The broader point, however, is that power generation must be drastically augmented during the Eleventh Plan to ensure the sustainability of India’s growth story.