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Sunday Special » Perspective

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

Private players with cheaper power woo Punjab

Ruchika M. Khanna in Chandigarh
Private players with cheaper power woo Punjab
Ruchika M. Khanna in Chandigarh

THE foundation for closing the six thermal units — four at Bathinda’s GNDTP and two at Ropar’s GGSSTP — was laid almost five years ago. 

The Bathinda plant was under the scanner of the Ministry of Environment and the National Green Tribunal over the “unmanageable” levels of pollutants released by the units. The other reason was the cost of power produced from these now “obsolete” plants was too high. As Punjab added more generation capacity, mostly in the Public Private Partnership mode, and the private players walked in, the cash-starved state insisted that the state power corporation tapered off its own generation from these two plants. It meant the PSPCL were to rely more on three new private plants at Rajpura, Talwandi Sabo and Goindwal Sahib, and from other private players. 

After shutting down the six plants, Punjab’s own thermal power generation will fall from 2,640 MW to 1,780 MW. Other than its own thermal generation capacity, the state also has a 3,920 MW capacity from the private plants. Even after the closure of the six units, Punjab will have a total thermal power generation capacity of 5,700 MW. Since the offseason (or rather off-paddy season June-October) average demand of power is 5,500 MW, the state will not face any shortage, says Punjab power minister Rana Gurjit Singh. 

The state also has a hydel, renewable and long-term power purchase pacts which make the total supply available to the state at 14,000 MW. “Thus, the state will continue to be power surplus, even during the peak demand months when paddy is cultivated. The peak demand reaches a maximum of 12,000 MW,” he said. He says the emphasis will be on purchasing power from renewable sources. “The proposal is to replace the thermal plant at Ropar with a highly efficient ultra supercritical thermal plant of 4,000 MW-capacity,” he said. The minister insists no employee would be retrenched. 

Additional principal chief secretary, power, Satish Chandra says the decision to close down the plants was based on the advisory issued by Central Electricity Authority (CEA), asking state governments to shut down all plants which are over 25 years old. The plants being closed have lived for more 32-43 years. “The technology in these plants had become redundant, leading to these being inefficient and causing excessive pollution. The cost of power from Bathinda plant is Rs 5.70-Rs 5.45 (from different units), while the cost of power produced from the two units of Ropar had escalated to Rs 4.66, if these are run at just 50% of plant load factor. Being old, they cannot be run at 50% load factor. Comparatively, power from National Grid is available for Rs 2.50-Rs 3 per unit, while the average purchase rate in 2014-15 and 2015-16 was Rs 4 per unit. “It is unviable to run these plants,” he said. 

It is also learnt that the National Green Tribunal had pulled up the state power utilities for the high nitrous and sulphur emitted by these plants. The state was told to install flue gas de-sulphurisation plants at both Bathinda and Ropar.The state is not willing to invest Rs 300 crore each on these plants, as many feel that over Rs 700 crore spent over seven years in the name of modernization of the Bathinda plant, did not yield much gains. 

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