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Legacy to burden: Debate rages as Punjab govt plans to dismantle state-owned thermal plants

Closure will lead to retrenchment of 6,300 regular and contractual employees.

punjab Updated: Oct 11, 2017 19:45 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
thermal plants,Punjab govt,Punjab thermal plants
Many see the proposal of the state government to shut the plants — Bathinda, Lehra Mohabbat near the city, and Rupnagar — as a step in haste and devoid of logic(HT File)

From being “temples of a modern India”, and symbols of Punjab’s self-dependence, to being termed mere burden, all three government-owned thermal power generation plants in the state are now staring at closure. However, many see the proposal of the state government to shut the plants — Bathinda, Lehra Mohabbat near the city, and Rupnagar — as a step in haste and devoid of logic.

A surplus-power scenario, and the fixed cost being paid by the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) to the three private plants even if not drawing power, are among reasons cited by government officials behind the proposal. And, of course, the state plants turning old. The first unit of the Bathinda plant was commissioned in 1974.

Closure will lead to retrenchment of 6,300 regular and contractual employees. However, as per the book value, these plants have total assets worth Rs 9,000 crore.

On August 24, the council of ministers tabled a proposal and formed a three-member sub-committee led by health minister Brahm Mohindra to give recommendations in two weeks, but so far the panel has not met. It is expected to meet on October 12. Secretary, power, and chairman-cum-managing director of the PSPCL, A Venuprasad, simply said the government has left the decision to this cabinet sub-committee.

‘Life left’

However, chief patron of All India Power Engineers federation Padamjit Singh decried the plan: “There’s no need to dismantle the Bathinda plant as Rs 750 crore was invested in renovation and modernisation, and more than 50% life of the renovated plant remains.”

Padamjit, who retired as engineer-in-chief from the erstwhile Punjab State Electricity Board that later was bifurcated, added that in case of the Rupnagar plant, an alternative could be to install two units each of 800 MW or of 660 MW of supercritical technology in place of the current two units of 210 MW each. “Unless the supercritical proposal is finalised, status quo should be maintained at Rupnagar as these units are fully operational,” he said.

As for Lehra Mohabbat, he said its useful life is remaining and the plant is running at better than specified efficiency.

Private mode

In five years, three private thermal plants too have come up in Punjab with a total generation capacity of 3,920 MW. These are the 1,400 MW plant at Rajpura, 1,980 MW at Talwandi Sabo, and 540 MW at Goindwal Sahib. The state government says these plants are more efficient and economical.

However, the PSEB Engineers Association has termed the move hasty, and said it will erode state property worth thousands of crores. It has demanded a white paper from the government to justify its stand. It has expressly “warned” the government against “total reliance” on the private sector.

Powerless plants? Points to ponder

Making a case of for shutting the three state-owned thermal power plants, the Punjab government says all units of the Bathinda plant and two units of the one at Rupnagar have become non-viable due to obsolete technology and high cost of generation. The government also says that guidelines of the central electricity authority say such thermal plants that have exceeded 25 years of lifespan should retire. The state plants have been running at 10-15% of their installed capacity lately due to the surplus availability and other commercial reasons.

-With surge in power requirement, state-owned plants stand as a guarantee, whereas the private ones may ask for fresh agreements with new terms to add capacity

-Private plants are high on efficiency, though, using 550 gm of coal for a unit of power, whereas state-run plants use 750 gm

-Punjab is set to get additional coal quota of 750 million tonnes, which the state-owned plants can utilise, whereas this coal can’t be given to private plants

-PSPCL can’t retrench regular employees; so will they keep getting salary?

-Consumer may be burdened with fixed charges of private plants which the PSPCL pays for a minimum amount of power even if not taken

-Total asset value of state-owned plants is pegged at Rs 9,000 crore which will be eroded or lost

What’s Punjab got

-Total power: 14,000 MW (including thermal, hydel, renewable, and long-term purchase pacts

-Thermal: 6,560 MW (3,920 from private plants + 2,640 from state-run)

-Peak demand: 12,000 MW approx

-Surplus now: 2,000 MW

-Shortfall if state plants shut: 640 MW

(Some figures approximate, culled from state data)

First Published: Oct 10, 2017 20:29 IST