Circa 1997. The power utility was known as Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB). Nobody was allowed to install a generator without express written permission. Even a marine engineering institute at Talegaon was not permitted to install a small genset to train marine engineers. Supply, which was inefficient, would be cut for several hours due to load tripping. Today, twenty years on, the power utility has transformed as Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited. (MSEDCL). Consumer interest is high. There are fewer power cuts and billing complaints have reduced. Yet challenges persist.
Jayant Deo, former CEO of IEX — India’s first energy exchange — vividly recalled how it was extremely difficult to get the permission to install generator. “Even a small diesel generator required the permission that was so difficult. In fact, the marine engineering institute in Talegaon had to finally shift to Goa since the permission was granted after an inordinate delay,” Deo said. “Yes, reforms did come in with the Electricity Act of 2003 that delicensed generator. MSEB became MSEDCL and Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) was empowered to protect consumers’ interest.
However, for many like Deo, it remains old wine in a new bottle. “Tariffs have skyrocketed. Thursdays continue to
be power cut days and heavy rains throw the system out of gear,” Deo said. Ram Dotonde, former chief general manager of corporate communications, MSEDCL, admitted that load-shedding was the norm in the late 90s. “We could not augment the system or scale up power generation due to paucity of funds,” Dotonde said.
Zero load-shedding model
The lack of reliability of power supply, however, led to Pune’s zero load-shedding model. “It was the worst case scenario,” said Vivek Velankar, president of Sajag Grahak Manch. By 2005-06, Maharashtra was reeling under peak power deficit of 23 per cent (3,700 MW). Kothrud and some areas in Pune faced a three-day blackout. There was regular load-shedding for two to four hours daily in Pune which faced an estimated shortfall of 90 MW. That’s when top 30 industrial undertakings in Pune, including Tata Motors, Bajaj Auto, Bharat Forge, Kinetic Engineering and Daimler Chrysler, among others, had unutilised captive capacity in excess of 100 MW.
The Pune Chapter of Confederation of Indian Industries set up a proposal — known as Pune Model — for using the under-utilised captive generation capacity of industries and submitted to the MERC to curb the growing electricity deficit. The Pune Model was introduced in June 2006 and involved industries that could generate and consume additional captive power to the extent of scheduled load-shedding. This was done so that equivalent grid power was made available to other consumers. To get uninterrupted power, the consumers were required to bear the incremental generation cost. The model worked and though issues remained around power reliability charges among the cosnumers, the MERC exempted nearly eight lakh small domestic consumers who consumed up to 300 Kwh/month. The Pune Model’s rate and terms of reliability charges were accepted by industries and was even replicated at other places. Pune was able to demonstrate an innovative approach to address load-shedding, Shantanu Dixit , coordinator at Prayas Energy Group, said.
MSEDCL’s IT solutions
From observing grievance redressal days to introducing technology-driven solutions like smart photometers to rectify incorrect billing, tracing power thefts, identify faulty meters and expedite procedures in providing new connections, MSEDCL has set up a series of measures to reach out to the increasing population of more than 20 lakh consumers. Employees have been instructed to register more mobile number of consumers on the MSEDCL mobile app to give them the benefit of the various services available on this app. The power utility has also made maximum use of the technology-based initiatives to facilitate energy bill payments.
Increasing demand for power
The demand for electricity has gone up to 1,500 MW in Pune city as compared to early 2,000 when the demand was 750 MW. Consumers were an approximate 8 lakh then, but with the increase in population, the challenge to ensure power supply to an approximate 23 lakh consumers has put tremendous pressure on the power utility. Senior MSEDCL officials admitted that for as many homes that are lit today, there are several that need power supply. Twenty years ago, the project to lay underground cable network from Parvati to Rasta Peth was approved. It was completed just a couple of years ago. There are 13 main sub-stations and 72 smaller ones that are part of the MSEDCL network to power homes in the city.
Not a smooth road ahead
While long-term power purchase agreements have been made, the infrastructure development works under phase 2 are yet to be completed. Officials at MSEDCL said that the basic aim was to provide a reliable supply of power. While works under phase 1 infrastructure development plan has been completed, M G Shinde, chief engineer, Pune zone of MSEDCL, said that the second phase of infra plan to set up a proactive distribution network is yet to be completed. The road-digging charges has been a bone of contention between the MSEDCL and Pune Municipal Corporation. Laying of underground cables in various parts of the city is yet to be completed. Sandeep Belsare, president of Pimpri Chinchwad Small and Medium Scale Industries Association, painted a dismal picture and pointed out that apart from old transformers and other equipment, the power utility did not supply raw material that hampered the quality of repair work. “While some parts of the city have underground cables, the overhead wires continue to get tripped due to tree branches falling on them,” Belsare said.