The Energy Stalemate

What is it that is actually needed to ensure the energy sufficiency of the UT and how to achieve that state?

THE last one year and more has seen developments of all sorts crisscrossing the power sector and allied departments in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. From unbundling of GENCO, TRANSCO and DISCO to speculations about privatisation of power distribution and transmission, to the more recent identification of power sector by the government as one of the economically fertile sectors in J&K, the power sector has occupied headlines for all the good and bad reasons.

The scenario of the power sector in J&K is a complex one both from producer’s as well as the consumer’s end and the multiplicity of issues revolving around it, call for immediate attention.

From the explicit will and wish of the government to rope in private players into generation business, to unabated pilferage and the mammoth debt which PDD is incurring, all are issues of concern. From the consumer's end, the low power quality and low power supply, shutdowns at times when electricity is needed most and the erratic pattern of electric supply generally throughout the year and particularly during winters, are pressing issues and deserve immediate attention. The tussle between the service provider’s and consumer’s interests and the multifarious issues arising there-from border on economy, technology, governance and administration.

To smoothen these points of encounter and to arrive at optimal and economic solutions, measures both from government and public side are needed and these measures shall concern us in what follows.

At the very outset, one is beset with paradoxes of sorts. Let’s look at these figures before we venture further. According to a report published by Economic Times, only 3,263.46 MW, about 20 percent of the identified potential of 16,475 MW and only about 16 percent of the estimated potential of 20,000 MW has been exploited until now which comprises 1,211.96 MW in the state sector, 2,009 MW in central sector and 42.5 MW in private sector. Another report by Livemint maintains that, “J&K leads in power losses in India '' with “a record aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of 60.5%”.

Recently, UT Governor Manoj Sinha said that “at present we are purchasing electricity for Rs 6,000 crore but only getting revenue of Rs 2,600 crore. We are suffering a loss of Rs 3400 crore annually". What do these numbers hint at? It is easy to infer that they describe the state of technical backwardness, burden on state treasury and persistence of outmoded transmission and distribution networks coupled to heavy pilferage.

Why is it that as of now, less than 20% of the total hydel potential has been explored despite the fact that the first hydropower plant in the UT was established in the last decade of the 19th century? More than a century has passed and we are yet to tap the umpteen hydropower resources that lie scattered across the state, thereby reflecting the lack of fervour on part of the government to enhance, exploit and extend the presence of hydropower in our larger power scenario.

Recently, the LG headed administration expressed its intent to “harness the region’s hydropower potential to make the union territory power surplus in the next five years”. But have not these promises and assurances struck our ears before?

What is it that is actually needed to ensure the energy sufficiency of the UT and how to achieve that state? Let’s invoke simple arithmetic.The cost of installation of one MW of hydel-power is pegged around Rs. 10 Crore INR, according to prevalent techno-economic considerations. By that standard, how much amount will it take, for example, for installation of a 100MW hydel powerhouse?

Simple algebra reveals it to be Rs 1,000 Crore INR. The cost will escalate in accordance with the size of the plant and here lies the first challenge. For an economic deficit state like ours, with state treasury already under various pressures, the question remains whether the state could afford its ventures into large scale hydel projects on its own? And our previous experience has revealed that it can’t.

Anytime, the state conceives of higher order projects, it faces off the hard challenge of the economy which obliges it to extend its bowl to the centre and once the centre jumps in, the projects end up in central monopoly, much like what happened to projects like Uri I and II. This leads us back to square one on how to assure self-sufficiency.

The Government has recently been working on small hydel power and captive power plants and inviting private players into the fair play but this itself comes at the risk of increased cost per MW, thereby affecting the consumer preference and energy consumption patterns. The way out of this dilemma is to strike a balance and to chalk a midway between unrestrained centralisation and unwanted privatisation. Privatisation of generation front in terms of engaging private players in small hydel power projects and captive power seems a viable option only as long as it doesn’t disturb the existing tariff structure and doesn’t put the consumer under unnecessary burden. Assistance can also be had from central agencies on the precondition that they don’t hijack these indigenous power plants. An understanding can be reached between the centre and states and conditions can be arrived at which assure that states’ rights are properly guarded and any attempt to hijack and takeover these projects is strictly met out by the law.

The next major breakthrough is to be sought in upgrading the transmission and distribution networks. It is these networks, their uneconomical performance and outdated technologies and equipment they employ which leads to transmission and distribution losses. We will continue to suffer losses as long as we don’t subject our transmission and distribution networks to upgradation.

Yet another face of the same coin is that the pilferage is to be effectively plugged which calls for patrolling by PDD field staff and intermittent inspections. Lest these pilferages and electricity thefts by illegal means of hooking are checked and choked, the prospect of effective transformation of the electricity sector remains bleak. A step has been initiated in this direction by installing smart metres in some areas and the accompanying networking has been claimed to reduce losses and eliminate pilferages. But the persistent complaint that has been accompanying this move is that the tariffs are too high to be affordable by the populace at large. So, a middle ground has to be reached and the interests, both of service provider and consumers are to be taken into consideration. It is only in reaching this middle ground that the impasse can be broken and optimization achieved.

There are some essentials to be learnt and followed by us as consumers. Our ways of energy utilization are both unscientific and uneconomical. Engineering practices teach us that utilizing electricity for heating purposes is the most uneconomical and least desired method of electricity utilization. But in our day to day lives, we use electricity not only for essential heating purposes, but also for purposes like heating huge water tanks, which are later ridiculously left to cool down. Heating gadgets, which consume energy in kilowatts, are left operative even when not needed. To use electric bulbs during the daytime is a common spectre, notwithstanding the cumulative energy losses these practices incur. All these steps are to be taken in unison by the energy producers (Government) and energy consumers (People) to take our state out of the present electricity morass.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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