UNTIL last year, load shedding was not a concern for Mumbaikars, though residents of Thane and beyond had experienced power cuts in the summers. Faced with an acute power shortage between June and October 2017, the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) extended the range of load shedding to urban areas.
As a result, parts of the suburbs including Bhandup saw a few hours of outages. Pune, Thane and Navi Mumbai, too, experienced frequent outages owing to the ‘unforeseen’ shortage. While traditionally load shedding is carried out in rural pockets, where pending bills and distribution losses are higher, last year’s shortage was acute and had to be passed on to cities. This year, as temperatures rise, discom officials have expressed concern over a coal deficit.
Despite making preparations for a shortage, MSEDCL officials have not ruled out the possibility of load shedding.
For residents of Pune any load shedding comes in addition to the fixed outages on Thursdays, for maintenance. “On Thursdays, power cuts are usually between 9 am and 6 pm. Almost all work comes to a standstill, markets remain shut. Sometimes, there’s no water if we haven’t stored it beforehand. An additional load shedding during summers will only add to our woes,” said Akashdeep Baruah, a final-year student in Savitribai Phule Pune University.
A resident of Kothrud, Baruah said, “Last year, there were outages for a few hours over and above the Thursday outage, making matters worse. It is particularly frustrating during exams. Many housing societies are now installing generators but not everybody can afford it.” Baruah prefers to stay in college during the outages as there is a generator backup. Among the urban pockets, Mumbra and Pune were the worst-affected last year by load shedding.
Outages were reported for six to eight hours. This year residents in Mumbra, unaware of the coal shortage, are storing up electricity in inverters, ‘to be on a safe side’. “Our last year’s experience has made it clear that one cannot live in Mumbra without an inverter. All work at home and outside suffered when there were outages for six hours.
One couldn’t use the lift, fill the water tank or use water filters for drinking water. We don’t know anything about the power crisis but we are better prepared for load shedding this year,” said Mehmood Syed, a resident of Mumbra.
Hospitals and blood banks, which required 24-hour power supply, too suffered. “Blood banks require 24×7 air-conditioning and refrigeration. As is with hospitals with ICUs and operation tables. We are forced to install a generator to deal with the intermittent supply,” said Sandeep Yadav, who runs a blood bank in Karad.
According to Yadav, the generators not only increase expenses by 50 per cent but also reduce the lifetime of machines. “It is a sticky situation. We can’t operate without a generator as power supply is intermittent and having one increases cost,” said Yadav. Not limited to hospitals, industries, too, are worried about the looming power crisis. In the Wagle MIDC, in Thane, industries complained that outages had already hit the industrial estate. “We are already experiencing frequent outages for four-five hours a week. As temperatures rise and demand grows, the situation may worsen,” said A Y Akolawala, joint secretary of Thane Small Scale Industries Association.
“If there is power cut, an entire batch already loaded onto any machine goes to waste, even if the outage is for a few hours. We were hit last year too,” said Akolawala. He said that for small-scale industries, keeping a generator was not an option. “There are regulations and compliances that not every industry can meet. We might as well shut down the industry and sit when there are power cuts,” he said.
Even as consumers complained of inconvenience, experts and consumers’ associations fear that the shortage could lead to an increase in tariff. “Power shortage could mean two things for the consumer: outage and hike in tariff,” said Pratap Hogade, chairperson of the Maharashtra Electricity Consumer Association.
“In case of power shortage, the discom will have to buy power on the spot from the exchange. During such crisis spot prices are very high. This excess cost then trickles down to the consumer,” said Hogade, adding that spot prices have already soared in the exchange hinting at an impending shortage. MSEDCL officials claimed that efforts were being made to keep the cost in check. “We have already signed short-term purchase agreements wherein we can purchase power at lower cost for a short period, say 15 days. These were signed as early as last year when prices were low,” said a senior official.