With the summer heat peaking high and the paddy sowing season approaching, frequent power breakdowns are being reported from rural as well as urban areas in Punjab. The chairman-and-managing director of Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), A Venu Prasad, tells Indian Express that a lack of robustness in distribution system is the cause of breakdowns.
Just a few months into the new government, people have already started saying that the power situation was better during the SAD-BJP government’s rule. Why?
This year, there have been breakdowns because of very high temperatures. Otherwise, as far as power supply situation is concerned, we are self-sufficient. If you compare the present figures, outages are less than last year. Today, our generation capacity is 11000 MW and the consumption is only 8000 MW. So we still have surplus power in the state. The breakdowns are taking place because of faulty distribution systems. The upgrade has not taken place, the public too do not declare their actual load leading to overloading of transformers. We require more of underground cabling which is expensive. Recently, we started this process in Ludhiana but a few days ago the underground cable was damaged by a JCB digging on the spot as a result the entire city was affected. Similar damage also took place in Mullanpur-Kharar area. There is lack of proper coordination. But we will do this in phases, in a slow manner. The power grid too faced a failure recently though it was rectified soon. We have hired 2,000 persons specially for the paddy season to resolve breakdown complaints.
As the paddy sowing season is about to begin and the CM has committed eight hours uninterrupted power supply to the farmers, would you be able to meet that target?
Yes we will be able to deliver as asked. Last year our total generation capacity was 13,650 MW, against which the maximum demand recorded during paddy sowing season was 11,408 MW. Out of out total capacity we cannot used 2,000 MW because the Talwandi Sabo plant is closed due to a fire incident. The GVK plant with 500 MW capacity has also not started yet so we will have around 11,000 MW generation capacity on ground and there will be a gap of 500MW. To meet this shortfall we have arranged from other sources such as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and apart from that we will purchase, if required at the peak of the season, which usually lasts for one or two days, from the power exchange.
What is the financial position of PSPCL now? It is understood that the previous government left it in a bad shape
We have a loan portfolio of around Rs 30,000 crore debt. Last year, we incurred a loss of around Rs 2,300 crore and the accumulated losses over a period of time are Rs 5,000 crore. This year, we expect to minimise the transmission and distribution losses by around three per cent. We can gain nearly Rs 750 crore by doing that. Checking the theft and promptly attending to the outages will also help to generate more revenue. This year the temperatures are very high. We have recorded the highest ever sale on a single day at 1,804 lakh units. The average against this is 1,600 lakh units. As the sale is more, the billing will increase too.
There has been criticism on the agreements signed with the private power generators as you are paying them fixed charges even when you do not purchase power. Your comments
Well these are the PPAs signed. In one way they are good, one way they are bad. When When there is no power in summer they are very good, when we are surplus in power we have to pay the fix charges. This is the standard national practice and nothing unique to Punjab, it is there in Gujarat, Maharashtra etc.
To give an example if you have brought an air conditioner in installments will you not pay the installment in winters even though you do not use it in winters? So here also it is the same thing. But with increased power demand in the next one or two years the payment of the fixed charges will be resolved. Roughly two lakh new connections are added in a year and these new consumers also consume more power. The only thing is that in Punjab we have a bell-shaped load curve. Four months in a year we have power problem and eight months we are surplus.
The plant load factor of the state-run power plants is abnormally low. How do you plan to resolve this?
Yes, it is very much on the lower side. We are planning to close the Bathinda thermal plant and redistribute the staff and there will be no retrenchment. The average cost of running the Bathinda almost comes to Rs 13 a unit. We will use the land at Bathinda for setting up a solar power plant. We have to plan for 2021-22 when the Centre says there will be a power deficit position. So we will have the Bathinda solar plant up by then.