Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shocking neglect of the North East - Power Sector

A near-complete breakdown of infrastructure 
A shocking set of data -- indicative of woeful neglect and a near-complete breakdown of infrastructure -- emerged from a recent visit of a World Bank team to the North Eastern states to study the possibility of a $1.5 billion loan to strengthen the decaying transmission and distribution networks in the region.
  • The region has an installed capacity of 1560 MW and a peak demand of a ridiculously small 1930 MW. This is equal to a fraction of the demand for Delhi.
  • Woefully little investments have been done in the transmission and distribution network in the area.
  • So much so that capacity constraints have not allowed states like Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur to draw even their allocated share of power from the central generating stations through the grid while having to sell this power to other states (resorting to load shedding within their own states) on account of a rickety distribution network.
  • A large number of remote areas are connected only through low tension lines, resulting in high losses and low voltages at consumer end. Thus, the power supply available at consumer end is of poor quality.
  • The story is at its worst In Manipur, where the supply system is managed by resorting to load shedding on a regular basis, the power availability in the capital city Imphal is less than 4 to 6 hours a day while the situation is bleaker in remote areas.
  • In Nagaland, the state capital Kohima remained without reliable power supply for four months during 2010 when the only 132 kV transmission link to the city was damaged due to collapse of a transmission tower due to land-slide.
  • In Meghalaya, there is a significant backlog of industrial connections waiting to be released once more power is available. 
Abysmally poor utilization of abundant resources 

The neglect of the North East can only be understood better when juxtaposed with its resource potential. The World Bank team has estimated the following endowments:
  • Renewable energy potential of 2.47 GW which is around 3% of the All India potential of 19 GW.
  • More than 60 GW of hydropower potential (40% of the 150 GW hydro potential in the country).
  • 169 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves (15% of the total All India reserves of 1115 billion cubic meters).
  • 1.38 billion tons of total coal reserves (against All India reserves of 277 billion tons).
  • 283 million tons of crude petroleum reserves (37% of the estimated All India reserves of 773 million tons).
Sitting on a volcano 

To make matters worse, the North East is currently sitting on a political volcano, this time brought about not by the politics of illegal migration, ethnic strife and militancy but by the fact that the region will soon produce more electricity than it can consume.
  • Political tempers will flare in what is already an excessively volatile region if the excess power is exported when the region goes through 20-hour power cuts.
  • The region is expected to see a capacity addition of close to around 4000 MW in the next 2-5 years resulting in a scaling up of nearly three times from the present 1560 MW. This includes the Pallatana gas-fired station in Tripura (726.6 MW) (first unit of which is expected to be commissioned in December 2011) and the coal-fired Bongaigaon Thermal Power station in Assam (750 MW).
  • In addition, two major hydropower projects (Lower Subansiri, 2000MW and Kameng, 600 MW) are also expected to be commissioned by the middle of the current decade. Several other smaller hydro plants, predominantly in the state sector, are expected to be commissioned in the next 4-5 years, significantly increasing the generation capacity.
  • While this large capacity addition program is already underway, adequate transmission and distribution infrastructure to transmit and distribute this power to consumers within the States in the region does not exist.
  • The government seems to be aware of the problem and has sought the World Bank`s help in straightening out the mess. The team's first visit was an eye-opener and more visits are likely before a full design of what needs to be done takes shape.