Hot and bothered in the city

The recent power cuts in the city are just a trailer of a bigger picture. The national capital is totally dependent on other states and national power companies for its electricity supply. City’s own power generation is mere 1,400 MW against the peak demand of 5,500-6,000 MW a day.

Moreover, the weakened 220 KV lines are not able to bear the load of the ever growing population of the city.

The major political parties – Aam Aadmi Party, Bharatiya Janata party and Congress – are blaming each other for these outages. And though the recent comments of Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal blaming former Sheila Dikshit government for the shortage irked the Congress, it is a reality that the party never paid attention to the infrastructural development in the power sector in the 15 years of its term.

AAP, which ran Delhi for 49 days, also did nothing for strengthening of infrastructure and making a summer action plan. It only resorted to the publicity-seeking decision of slashing power tariffs.

Power experts and former bureaucrats blame inexperienced babus, shrewd private power distribution companies (discoms) and lack of planning for the problem. Delhi’s former Power Secretary Shakti Sinha says if the city cannot generate enough power of its own, it should have strengthened the existing infrastructure to ensure uninterrupted supply from the national power companies.

“The existing lines, transformers and grids were meant to bear the load of the population of five years back. Now they are weakened, they often overheat resulting in tripping of power supply,” he says.

Delhi’s former Chief Secretary Omesh Saigal says there is no need to blame the central government as the greenhorns in the city government miscalculated the situation.

“What can the central government do in two days? They have deployed the emergency units and the situation is improving slightly,” he says.  According to him, inexperienced Delhi government officers failed to calculate the extent of the problem, which led to massive outages.

The massive thunderstorm which hit Delhi on May 30, uprooted many towers and disrupted major transmission lines, tripping power supply across the city. According to Saigal, the lack of a summer action plan, which was the responsibility of Aam Aadmi Party’s  government, is now leading to outages in the residential areas.“I am not blaming anyone but the inexperience of government and bureaucrats added fuel to the fire. No summer action plan was made in winter which led to mismanagement in power distribution and the new Power Secretary did not have any idea about Delhi’s power crisis. Even the Lieutenant Governor is new and he has very little idea about the problems of Delhi,” he says.

“Natural calamities can’t be averted. But the government must have understood that the demand of power supply will rise with the mercury,” he adds.

The lack of a summer action plan gave a free hand to Delhi’s discoms to resort to outages in equal measure in residential and industrial areas.

“In the summer action plan government convinces heavyweight power consumers like industries and malls for 4-5-hour-long outages as they have a sufficient power back-up. As there is no summer action plan, the discoms are supplying electricity to the heavy power consumers and residential areas equally,” Saigal says.

The discoms are more interested in supplying electricity to the industries and the malls as the  tariff for them is higher than the residential tariff.The city gets negligible power supply from renewable energy sources. 

So far, only 14 MW of power supply is available from the Okhla waste power plant. 

Alternative energy

All three Delhi discoms—BSES Yamuna Power Limited, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited and Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited – have not bothered much about setting  up solar panels for alternative energy.

 And a government plan for a solar park near Rajghat is still in the pipeline, and the site is lying vacant.

Power sector experts say the renewable energy situation is a result of lack of political will and future planning.

“Every progressive state is installing a number of solar energy plants, waste power plants and utilising natural resources. In the case of Delhi, the government never actually worked on this. During the former Congress government, so many agendas were discussed but the meetings ended inconclusively,” says Sinha.

Solutions

The major problem in Delhi is the lack of state-run power generating plants. The former Sheila Dikshit government tried to raise the issue of power islanding and making Delhi a power surplus state, but despite having a government led by the same party at the Centre, nothing happened to the proposals.

Lack of cheap gas supply has hampered the functioning of the Bawana gas turbine power plant on the outskirts of the city. The plant has a capacity of 1,500 MW a day which is more than city’s total current power generation. If the government provides cheap gas to the plant, city’s dependence to national power plants will reduce gradually.

According to Saigal, another problem is the litigation over coal block allocation, which has hampered coal mining and supply to the power generation companies.

“The cases have reduced coal mining and supply to 20-30 per cent. The government must act fast and ensure 100 per cent mining and supply of coal so that the existing power plants generate electricity to their full capacity,” he says.

Till the time Delhi gets enough power generation plants, he suggests strengthening of existing grids, lines and transformers.

“The government must enhance the power sector infrastructure. The power grids, supply lines and other equipment must be reinforced to ensure uninterrupted power supply from national power generation companies,” he adds.

Privatisation of power in Delhi has reduced outages to some extent but the electricity rates have gone up substantially. A lack of stringent laws to penalise the discoms has provided them freedom to disconnect power supply.

The former AAP government tried to tighten the  noose around the discoms. They tried to enforce a pending decision of penalising the discoms in case of power cuts and cancellation of their licences for repeated power cuts. 

Discoms in  many other states were also called to discuss an apparent change in distribution system. However, before they could have done it, Arvind Kejriwal resigned as the Chief Minister.   The consumer redressal system for cases related to overcharging or wrong bills by the discoms does not works in favour of consumers, critics say. 

“There is a need for strict consumer redressal system to take action against the discoms. The discoms are hardly ever fined for any fault,” says a Delhi power department official.

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