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Overdrawing states plead political pressure

Executives of state power distributors in a hearing before the power sector regulator blamed political pressure for withdrawing more than their allotted share of electricity, which is believed to be one of the reasons for the recent blackouts across northern India. This admission was made by executives of the power distribution companies of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, who had been summoned by the the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) on Tuesday. “They pleaded helplessness and promised that they will open the feeders (cut supplies in the case of demand surging)... They pleaded that they have political compulsions,” said Pramod Deo, CERC chairman. On 31 July, the northern grid collapsed, and on 1 August, in a wider blackout, the northern and eastern ones too went down, leaving nearly 620 million people without electricity.

The bodies responsible for snapping power supply to states that overdraw electricity from the national power network or grid, thereby preventing blackouts, can’t do this because it is a political decision, Mint reported on 2 August. For instance, Uttar Pradesh, a consistent offender in terms of overdrawing power from the grid, is ruled by the Samajwadi Party, which supports the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre without being a part of it. The executives were called over a petition filed by the Northern Regional Load Despatch Centre (NRLDC) with CERC against the state power utilities and load despatch centres of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. NRLDC is responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and despatch of electricity in the northern region. While a committee headed by A.S. Bakshi, chairman, Central Electricity Authority, will submit a report on the reasons for the collapse on 16 August, CERC had also asked for a report on the grid collapse, which was submitted by state owned Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd (PGCIL). Regional load despatch centres (RLDCs) fall under the purview of PGCIL and are responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and delivery of electricity in their regions. The country has 33 state load despatch centres, five RLDCs, and one national load despatch centre.

“It was not only overdrawing. It was not only the frequency. Frequency is deceptive. Between western and northern region there was inter regional transmission constraints. There are other limitations. We are not trying to find faults as there is a separate probe on for it. This report will help us in making amendments to the grid code if it is required and issuing interpretation,” Deo added. “We have submitted our report to CERC. We have given them the details of the event which shows skewed generation and local problem. We have given the factual situation,” said a senior PGCIL executive requesting anonymity. In a related development, a calling attention motion has been called in the Lok Sabha on India’s massive grid failures. Power minister M. Veerappa Moily is expected to give a detailed reply on the issue when the calling attention motion comes up in the Lok Sabha on 17 August. The minister said he will get the Bakshi panel’s report a day earlier, on 16 August.

PGCIL on its part has communicated to CERC that it would take three months for the transmission utility to undertake a study on a fibre optic network to automatically disconnect electricity supplies to overdrawing states and another two years to implement this, Moody’s Investors Service Inc. in a 9 August report said, “India’s recent blackouts are unprecedented and while they will have a minimal near-term adverse impact on the credit quality of its rated issuers, the long-term implications for the power sector could be negative depending upon the type of government response.” Apart from overdrawing power, states also owe money on account of penalty for overdrawing power from the transmission grid known as unscheduled interchange charges to generation firms such as NTPC Ltd. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana owe Rs.2,114.38 crore, Rs.243.15 crore, Rs.445.12 crore and Rs.126.77 crore, respectively, on account of the charges. A grid collapse is the worst-case scenario for any transmission utility; if this happens, states that draw power from that particular network go without power. India has five regional grids—northern, southern, eastern, north-eastern and western. All except the southern one are connected.