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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Blackout the price of poor maintenance

Aftermath: To keep tariffs low,PowerGrid cut upkeep budgets; zero sales as states play safe

Written by Priyadarshi Siddhanta | New Delhi |
August 1, 2012 11:42:21 pm

Blamed by the Centre for the two successive days of blackout,the state governments today played safe,sending the price of electricity to zero even at evening peak hours.

However,evidence coming in from different agencies shows that overdrawal of states alone may not have been responsible for India’s worst ever blackout — that neglect by the Centre may have been as much to blame.

The grid frequency was a healthy 50 plus Hertz at the time of the second blackout on Monday afternoon. However,two things had happened over an unusually hot summer in northern India to precipitate the crisis.

While the states had refused to reinstate the ‘under frequency relays (essentially a sort of fuse)’ to island themselves if frequency fell or rose beyond a limit,central power utilities like Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) had cut their budget for maintenance of grids repeatedly,to keep tariffs low for consumers.

Since all elements in the cost of a unit of power have to be borne by consumers and the UPA government baulked at raising the tariffs,all players in the game cut their costs accordingly.

As of now,the cost of operations and management of the national grid cannot be more than 1.5 per cent of the total tariff for every unit of electricity consumed — an absurdly low figure,said a former chairman of a central power utility.

Shakti Sinha,Chairman and Managing Director of Delhi Transco,said it was like driving without brakes. Explaining the collapse,he said: “No state demanded more but all arrived at the market at the same time.”

Power Ministry officials acknowledged that the inability of the PGCIL-run load despatch centre to monitor the fluctuation in demand was a huge shock for them. “It happened on a busy day. What were they doing?” an officer asked.

Experts like Navroze Dubash,a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research,said the two mega blackouts and the crash of electricity prices the next day reflected poor grid management.

The Centre has convened a special meeting of chief ministers of eight states on August 6 to discuss a blueprint to prevent such a calamity in the future. One of the points on the agenda of the meeting is to ensure that states do not disable the under frequency relays. However,there will be no discussion on how tariffs can be raised,which would allow PGCIL to invest more in maintenance.

Principal Adviser,Planning Commision,Pronab Sen,pointed out that with many state electricity boards almost bankrupt,tariff revision was essential.

Power Minister Veerappa Moily,who took charge today,assured reporters that there would be no repetition of the grid failures,wisely refusing to engage in a blame game. His predecessor Sushilkumar Shinde said he had submitted a report on the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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