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Looming energy crisis in Assam

The nationwide energy crisis has exposed vulnerabilities of Assam’s power sector.


Sentinel Digital Desk

The nationwide energy crisis has exposed vulnerabilities of Assam's power sector. Failure of the state to become self-sufficient in electricity generation has kept it perpetually dependant on the national grid. Any shortage in the national grid will, therefore, continue to result in a shortage of power in the state until it harnesses power generation potential to meet its growing demand. The Assam Power Distribution Company issuing a notification informing the public that country-wide coal shortage will lead to power shortage in the state speaks volumes about the helplessness of the DISCOM to do little to provide relief to the consumers. The notification urging people to use electricity judiciously states that power position in the state is at a critical level and now shortage/outages may be inevitable. The nationwide crisis has resulted from a drop in the import of coal by private power producers for their thermal stations due to rising international prices and domestic coal production hit by excess rainfall. The Coal Ministry on Sunday rushed to allay apprehension of disruption in power supply stating that the country still had 75 lakh tonnes of coal stock sufficient for four days requirement. The official release, however, confirmed that due to high international prices of coal, the supply of power under Power Purchase Agreements by import-based power plants has been reduced by almost 30%. The Ministry, however, claimed that the domestic coal-based power generation has grown by nearly 24% till September this year. The daily average coal requirement at the power plants is about 18.5 Lakh tonnes of coal per day whereas the daily coal supply has been around 17.5 lakh tonnes per day due to extended monsoon. Daily shortage in coal despatches to thermal stations to the tune of one lakh tonne has resulted which cannot be brushed under the carpet. Assam's generation capacity is only 440 megawatts against peak hour demand of about 2,000 MW. The peak hour demand has gone up due to the Durga Puja festival. The power generation is less than 360 MW due to which the state has to draw over 1600 MW every day from the national grid at exorbitant cost. The coal-based thermal power station of the National Thermal Power Corporation in the state Salakatiin Bongaigaon with a commissioned capacity of 750 MW which has been supplying only 100 MW to the state over the past week due to a drop in power generation on account of coal shortage. Ironically, the plant achieved more than 100% Plant Load Factor in March this year after all three units were fully commissioned. Availability of affordable electricity without any disruption is essential for rapid industrial growth. Apart from large industrial units, frequent load-shedding reduces the productivity of Micro, Small, Medium enterprises dependent on electricity for running their units. Harnessing solar energy can help build the resilience of the state against global shocks and reduce dependence on supplies from thermal power stations in the national grid. Expediting the commissioning of two solar power projects- each one with 70 MW capacity in Dima Hasao district and Sivasagar district will increase the state's generation by 140 MW. Besides, three solar power projects for the generation of another 100 MW which are in the pipeline need to be fast-tracked to augment power generation. Besides, the rooftop generation of solar power has huge potential but has not been harnessed due to a lack of awareness among the people. Surplus power generated on the rooftop of individual buildings and houses that remain after meeting the household requirement can be fed into the grid. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy provides up to 30 % of the capital subsidy to residential and institutions like educational institutions, hospitals, and has set a target of generating 40 gigawatts of solar power by 2022. Assam has huge potential of generating 13 gigawatts of solar power and therefore government offices, educational institutions, hospitals as well as private institutions besides residential houses installing solar rooftops will ensure harnessing this clean source of power to meet the growing demand. The state government asking all government departments to prioritise solar power installation on government offices can meet desired targets. Simplifying the procedures is essential to motivate people to install rooftop solar power. This in turn will also help the state decarbonising power generation to meet climate change mitigation goals. Promotion of solar water pumps for irrigation can reduce the dependence on grid-connected electricity supplies or fossil fuel-run pumps and also bring down input costs. The state can also set up small hydropower units to increase its generation, but all these will require the state government and Assam Power Generation Company to prioritize increasing its generation. The state can least afford to reel under power shortage when it is looking at entrepreneurship-led growth to put the COVID-19 ravaged economy back on the rails.

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