Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Mar 09, 2004
Industry & Economy
Dark days ahead as drought hits hydel power plants in Kerala
Kochi , March 8
THE prevailing drought conditions in Kerala appears to be driving the State to a serious power crisis as the water levels in the reservoirs of all the hydel projects have dropped to the bottom.
Deficient rains during the last southwest and northeast monsoon season and the absence of the summer showers so far this year in the catchment areas of the projects have virtually forced the authorities to reduce drastically the power generation at the hydroelectric projects.
Power generation at the major 780 MW Idukki hydel project has been cut by 75 per cent. Average generation at present is 2.85 million units during the peak hours, 6-9 p.m. A 30-minute cyclical power cut is already in force for the past several months.
During this period last year, the Idukki project was generating 4.75 million units. According to official sources, monsoon last year in the catchment areas of Idukki project was less by 33 per cent. The situation in the second major hydel project, Sabarigiri, is also not different.
Even small and medium projects such as Pallivasal, Chenkulam, Neriyamangalam, Panniyar, Kathungal, Karimanal are also said to have to cut down production.
The dependence on thermal power will be more this year, a senior KSEB source said. The daily demand is estimated at 35 million units and of this, the hydel generation would be less than 10 million units while the power allocated from the Central grid is somewhere around 9 million units.
The discrepancy has to be met from high cost thermal power at a cost of around Rs 4 per unit. This would aggravate further the fragile financial position of the State electricity board, he pointed out.
The State still lacks sufficient installed generating capacity to meet the growing power demand and energy requirement. Besides, generating stations with one-third total installed capacity are very old and require renovation, a former chief engineer said.
According to him, taking into account the present actual power demand, the reserve for maintenance, spinning and breakdown, the installed generating capacity of the State is short by at least 450 MW. "To bridge this gap in installed generating capacity, huge investment is required", he added.
The existing thermal plants in the State including the NTPC's 350 MW Kayamkulam unit are operating on high cost Naphtha and as a result, the generation cost in these plants was said to be over Rs 3.5 per unit.
Kerala used to receive on an average 3,000 mm of rainfall every year except in certain years. But the entire water received in the State flows down through the 44 rivers to the backwaters or the sea in 48 hours.
According to reports, 76,323 million cubic metres (MCM) of water was received in the State during the monsoons with a useable yield of 42,722 (MCM). Where as, the storage facility available with the State electricity board is only for 3,350 MCM.
Depletion of the forest cover is also responsible for the dip in the water flow into the reservoirs, he said. Absence of mechanisms to conserve rainwater could also be responsible for the fall in the ground water table. Measures to harness rainwater during monsoons need to be taken to tap the hydel potential fully, he added.
Given this scenario, it is becoming more relevant to pursue thermal plants using cheap fuel such as coal or LNG. If the plants using Naphtha are switched over to LNG, power could be made available at affordable cost, an energy expert pointed out.
NTPC would be expanding its Kayamkulam at to 2,300 MW from the present 350 MW in the next plan by changing the fuel to LNG.
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