Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao’s ambitious plan to turn the three Raj Bhavans in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur into the country’s first “green” gubernatorial residences has run into trouble with the state government. For more than a year now, the state energy department and the Raj Bhavan have been embroiled in a dispute over the purchase price and utilisation of power generated by a solar power plant installed inside the premises of the Raj Bhavan in Pune.
According to documents accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act, the Raj Bhavan initiated a the plan for a 1-megawatt solar power plant in its Pune premises in December 2014. Actual work commenced in November 2016 and the plant was inaugurated on November 5, 2017 by the Governor and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. But in the absence of a Power Purchase Agreement and with the plant not yet registered with the Maharashtra Energy Development Authority (MEDA), the plant is permitted to operate at lower than installed capacity, with the electricity generated there being evacuated to an MSEDCL sub-station since November 2017, and not used in any way by the Raj Bhavan.
Records show that the plant was set up especially to make the three Raj Bhavans “self-reliant in power” and the “first green Raj Bhavans in the country”. The installed capacity of the plant is 16,64,400 units per year, while cumulative annual power consumption in the three Raj Bhavans is 8,15,397 units. According to the minutes of a meeting held on July 17, 2017, the Governor directed Principal Secretary (Energy) Arvind Singh to devise a scheme whereby MSEDCL would access all the power generated by the plant and in return the three Raj Bhavans would not be required to pay for electricity supplied to them. “This would make the Raj Bhavans self-reliant in power,” the Governor is recorded in the minutes as having said. The principal secretary was to submit a proposal after coordinating with the energy regulator and other departments.
However, the MSEDCL’s proposal submitted on August 11, 2017 was to purchase power at Rs 5.13 per unit, with accelerated depreciation for 13 years as fixed by the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC). In a note, Raj Bhavan officials responded by saying this would imply that while they would sell 16,64,400 units of power for Rs 85.38 lakh to MSEDCL, Raj Bhavan’s bill for 8,15,397 units consumed annually amounts to Rs 1.04 crore. The note was prepared by Vasant Salunkhe, comptroller of the Governor’s Household and signed by B Venugopal Reddy, secretary to the Governor.
Thus, the note said, Raj Bhavan would be giving away 8,49,103 surplus units of power to MSEDCL while still paying Rs 19,19,000 every year in power bills. The note added that the rate of Rs 5.13 per unit with accelerated depreciation means the rate would reduce every year. “We may get only Rs 2 per unit at the end of 13 years,” said the note, adding that this was an “economically unviable proposition”. Holding that MSEDCL’s proposal was not in line with the Governor’s instructions, Raj Bhavan officials on October 27, 2017 asked the energy department to consider two options. One was to charge minimum rates for transporting power from Pune to the Raj Bhavans in Mumbai and Nagpur. The second option was to allow an exception in rules in order to supply the power to Pune University without charging open access charges, by considering that the generator and consumer are both institutions headed by the Governor.
Electricity generators are required to utilise power as per the existing norms of the MERC. If the power generator plans to sell power, then open access charges, wheeling charges, etc are applicable. As the Governor is also the Chancellor of the Pune University, the Raj Bhavan’s request was to consider both institutions — Raj Bhavan as electricity generator and Pune University as consumer of the power — as one, said an official. On January 5, 2018, Raj Bhavan officials, having failed to elicit a response to their two suggestions, sent a reminder to the energy department. Then, on February 21, 2018, with still no response from the department, the Governor decided to call a meeting with Energy Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule.
“At the time of inauguration of the plant, Governor had requested to the CM to devise a policy for the sale and purchase of power for Raj Bhavan so that Raj Bhavan will not require to pay any money towards its electricity bills. Despite our best efforts, the energy department is not responding positively,” said Salunkhe, in a note prepared to seek the Governor’s approval for a meeting with Bawankule. The note was signed by Reddy and approved by the Governor.
On March 15, Bawankule met the Governor and assured that the issue would be resolved. Bawankule held a meeting with the MSEDCL officials the next day and it was decided to allow supply to Pune University. However, on March 22, Pune University representatives who attended a meeting at Raj Bhavan, Mumbai requested that power be supplied to them at Rs 3 per unit. Their contention was that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy was to install a 600 KW rooftop solar power plant on the university buildings and supply the energy thus generated at Rs 3 per unit.
Initially, it was decided to supply power to the university, which currently pays Rs 8.30 per unit, at Rs 7 per unit for making the project economically viable, said officials. But later, with none of the options working out convincingly, Raj Bhavan officials decided to enter into an agreement with MSEDCL for sale of the power. “In the given circumstances, we may agree to a proposal submitted by principal secretary (Energy) as we are not left with any other option,” said a note approved by the Governor.
Sources at Raj Bhavan said the draft Energy Purchase Agreement was also stillborn, with the energy department insisting that the agreement should be renewed in three months after expiry of Power Purchase Agreement, and non-renewal would lead to the project’s assets being handed over to MSEDCL. “This condition was referred to the state’s law and judiciary department, which objected to it. We have conveyed the same to the energy department,” said an official.
When contacted, secretary to the Governor, B Venugopal Reddy, refused to comment. Minister Bawankule said MERC regulations need to be followed in the energy sector. “But a meeting to resolve all the hurdles will be convened in coming days,” he added.