Let consumers pay

The 1 lakh mw needed is not meant for the poor, but for the consumption of the rich who can afford to pay a higher price.

Two massive power shutdowns in the northern grid last fortnight should shame the country into taking corrective action. In the wake of the breakdowns, the Centre and the states blamed each other. Whosoever is at fault, the fact is that life becomes unbearable without sufficient and continuous power supply. Grid failure not only causes pains and heavy losses; it also pulls down the prestige of the country in international arena. Since there is a major imbalance between demand and supply of power, such incidents may recur in future too. 

If we take a cursory look at the target of capacity creation in the last 20 years or four five year plans, we find that capacity building in power generation has always remained less than the target. The total of targets in the last four plans was 2 lakh 12 thousand megawatts, whereas the actual capacity creation was a little more than one lakh megawatts. In the Eleventh Five Year Plan, total capacity creation has been merely 50,000 megawatts, against the target of one lakh megawatts.

During 2011-12, the gap between demand and supply of power was 9.3 per cent, and this gap was 12.9 per cent on peak load. Demand for electricity has been increasing at the rate of 9 to 10 per cent, while its supply could increase at the rate of 7.7 per cent only. This implies widening of gap between demand and supply of electricity in the country. Under these circumstances, efforts are on to somehow increase the supply of electricity using multiple sources including hydro, thermal and even nuclear power. 

Environmental issues are emerging from indiscriminate use and production of electricity in the country. If we try to produce electricity from water, if affects natural flow of water or endangers lives of people due to big dams. In the past, nation has witnessed massive public movements against big dams and so called run-of-the-river projects. Recently government has put some restrictions on hydro power projects. If we produce power from coal or gas, it causes emissions of harmful and poisonous gases. Recent earthquakes of Japan have belied all claims about safety of nuclear power plants and thus nuclear power generation is also not free from hazards.

Nation is well aware of the protests and people’s movements against nuclear power projects in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Protests against power projects endangering environment have solid reasons. Can we forgo the purity of Ganga or can we afford to endanger humanity by way of radioactivity of nuclear power plants for a few units of electricity, are some of the basic questions faced by the country. 

Demand and supply

The question is not only one of demand and supply. It is important to understand who is using electricity and for what purpose? Around 35 per cent of electricity demand comes from industry, 21 per cent from agriculture, 28 per cent from the households and 9 per cent from commercial establishments. Hardly 2 per cent electricity is used for railway traction. Apart from drawing electricity from the public utilities, commercial establishments and industry use power generated from their own captive power plants.

Perhaps the aggregate figures of power usage do not tell the whole story. We understand that it is important to provide electricity for productive purposes and for lighting the houses of poor. In this context it is important to note that, the usage of electricity is rising at the rate of only 2.7 per cent for productive purposes including agriculture, industry and services, whereas the electricity demand for luxuries (like air-conditioning) is rising at a much faster rate, such that the overall usage for electricity is rising at the rate of 8 per cent per annum.

As on date 7,000 crore units of electricity are produced on a monthly basis, which makes per capita use of electricity at 58 units per month. Even now, nearly 20 crore people (4 crore households) are deprived of electricity. If a small bulb could light their homes and a fan is available to them, they may consider themselves lucky enough. At the rate of 30 units monthly the total requirement for each household (deprived of electricity) comes to 120 crore units. If we could spare some 2 per cent of electricity from the present generation, nobody would be left deprived of electricity. 

If we look at the target of 1 lakh megawatt of additional power generation capacity, it is not for the poor and deprived. It is actually for those who have the capacity to purchase electricity. And it is surprising that the government is ready to go to any extent, even endangering the humanity for generation of additional power for the luxury of a few, in the guise of lighting the houses of common people.

Those who are advocating additional investment in power generation to meet the arithmetic gap between demand and supply of electricity must understand that there is a limit to the generation of electricity through conventional means. If the rich want to use more electricity for their luxuries they should be ready to pay more for the generation of power by renewable sources like solar power. The government should also keep in mind that it is not prudent to produce more power using conventional and pollutive methods. It should encourage generation of electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, and plan the financial support and subsidies to encourage the same. 

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