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Sunday Special » Perspective

Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 1:33 AM (IST)INDEPTH

Power shocker

Nikhila Pant Dhawan in Bathinda
Bathinda’s 4-decade-old GNDTP thermal plant has been shut down since Jan 1. A host of issues, including huge renovation costs to address environment concerns and power purchase agreements with private players, have led to the plant’s fate being sealed

Power in figures

  • The GNDTP plant can produce 4.6 lakh units (kw per hour).
  • 1.5 units of power can run a 1.5kw AC for an hour.
  • Total power sold by PSPCL to consumers in a year: 47,000 million units
  • Punjab’s population: 30,045,949
  • One person consumes 1,564 units in a year, 4.28 units a day and 128.4 units a month
  • A residential area with 500 people would need about 64,200 units to cater to its power demands for a month
Nikhila Pant Dhawan in Bathinda

A disruptive force of retributive reformation strikes you as you enter the 1,800-acre Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant (GNDTP) compound. Contractual employees, around 750 of them, are on an indefinite strike and the regular ones, 957, are busy planning their next agitation. The entry register says there have been less than 20 visitors per day. The 460-MW plant has been shut since January 1.

At the district administrative complex, Dhanno Devi (54) is sulphurous as she asks her grandson Jashn (7) to shout anti-government slogans. She says her husband Ramdhani brought her to Bathinda from UP more than three decades back. “He is a regular employee of the plant. Our son Rajesh also worked there as a contract employee,” says Dhanno Devi. She takes care of her other two grandsons, Arshdeep (4) and Samar (3).

The authorities are preparing a list of employees who would be required to stay back at the plant and those who could be ‘adjusted’ in other plants and departments of PSPCL and PSTCL. “Even if the operations are shut down, there is an inventory and several other things to be taken care of. Apart from the order directing the closure of the plant, there has been no official word on other modalities to be followed,” says a senior plant official.

Conceived in 1969, the thermal plant began operations with two units each producing 110 MW in 1974. Two more units were added in 1979 upping the total power generation to 440 MW. By 2014, the plant capacity went up by another 20MW. The plant underwent renovation and modernization (R&M) between 2006 and 2012 at a cost of Rs 715 crore.

The talk inside the thermal plant’s authorized residential colony centres around who will stay back and who will have to relocate to another city. The rumour in Oriya Colony, the unauthorized hutment area within the unit’s limits, is that the families will be asked to vacate as the state may use the land for some projects.

In another building, built on the adjoining premises, officials and workers of Ambuja Cement Factory are closely watching the goings-on. The reason is the factory utilizes fly-ash generated by the plant to manufacture cement.

Pollution countdown

A PIL about rising air pollution caused by the coal-based plant was filed in 2001 in the Punjab & Haryana High Court. The electricity board and the Punjab Pollution Control Board gave a joint undertaking promising that the plant would be renovated by 2007. 

In 2007, a joint action committee led by MM Behl, began agitation against the pollution being caused by the plant. “The committee submitted a PIL demanding renovation of the units. Bowing to increasing pressure, the GNDTP secured shutdown of Unit 3 in April 2011. We collected ash, which would settle on our rooftops, and gifted it to the GNDTP chief engineer,” recalls Behl, emphasizing that the committee never demanded the plant’s closure.

The then PPCB executive engineer Nazar Singh Manshahia says since Unit 3 was not functioning, the PPCB could not take action against PSPCL for delaying the renovation. After complaints against pollution caused by GNDTP began pouring in, the PPCB forced the shutdown of Unit 4 till renovation in November 2011. 

The power struggle

An air of disbelief set in on Dec 20 last year when, armed with calculations carried out by a sub-committee, Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, power minister Rana Gurjit Singh and technical education minister Charanjit Singh Channi, said the government has cleared closure of the plant. The cabinet sub-committee claimed that the power generation at GNDTP cost Rs 11.50 per unit. The same was available at Rs 2.50 under the tariff merit order of the Sasan Power Project in Madhya Pradesh.

A government order also directed the department concerned to look into the possibilities and financial viability of setting up a supercritical technology thermal plant (5x800 MW) in Ropar. “To avoid power shortage in Punjab, wind, solar and plants running on renewable sources of energy should be set up.”

The finance minister said: “We closely studied the data available for the power generation at GNDTP and also the power-purchase agreements signed with independent power producers. The committee concluded that running GNDTP was not economically viable. The decision is based on the guidelines of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).”

The CEA guidelines stipulate that all non-reheat units of 100MW or less functioning for 25 or more years be retired. It also says that units where renovation and maintenance has been undertaken and performance enhanced, be retained. 

The GNDTP units are of 110/120 MW capacity and have reheat cycles. The longevity of units 1 & 2 were extended up to 2021-22 and that of units 3 & 4 to 2027 and 2029 respectively. That obviously meant that the units are being retired much before the completion of their extended life.

PPAs in bulk

GNDTP Employees Federation president Gursewak Singh has demanded a review of the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). “The calculation that GNDTP power generation costs Rs 11.50 per unit is erroneous. The per unit cost of power generated last year was high since the plant operated for only 15 days, that too, when the state was faced with a power crunch after a fire broke out in the Talwandi Sabo plant. The plant should be allowed to operate for one year at full load to arrive at concrete data.”

PSEB Engineers’ Association president Sanjiv Sood says the previous SAD-BJP government signed lopsided PPAs with private payers in the hope of a surge in demand by the industrial sector. “As per the PPAs, apart from shelling out the fuel-based cost of energy, the state is also supposed to cough up a fixed cost per unit irrespective whether the PSPCL draws this power from the plant. The state stands to spend Rs 65,000 crore over the next 25 years to honour the PPAs.” 

Parkash Singh, a regular GNDTP employee who retired in December, says the state couldn’t have thought of shutting down the state-run thermal plants before 2010. It was only after private firms began investing in the sector did the government consider the option. The plant worked without halt and powered the Asian Games in 1982,” said Parkash.

Enter private players

As per the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (PSERC) tariff order for 2017-18, Punjab is to purchase 8,694 MUs (million units) from Nabha Power Ltd Rajpura (L&T) at Rs 3.97 per unit, 6,095MUs from the Talwandi Sabo Power Ltd (TSPL/Vedanta Resources) at Rs 5.40 per unit, 1,223 MUs from GVK Power Ltd (Goindwal Sahib thermal plant) at Rs 8.70 per unit, 4,724 MUs from Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project (Reliance Power) at Rs 1.32 per unit and 3,162 MUs from Mundra Thermal Power Station (Adani Group) at Rs 2.20 per unit.

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