The power crisis has come to stay in the state of Tamil Nadu. For many months now, power cuts for over six hours in the towns and villages of the state have been the norm. Chennai, which till recently was spared the rigours of power shedding has now been brought into the ambit. This poses a question on the state trying to attract more and more investment, giving assurances of uninterrupted power supply.
Load shedding which was originally meant for an hour or so, has now been extended to three hours in many suburbs of the city. While this has affected homes and commercial establishments, the industries in and around the city (High Tension power consumers) have been hit hard by strict regulations on hours of load shedding, with many units being forced to shut down operations for an entire day each week. Industry sources are also upset over the fact that while manufacturing units consume only 35% of the 9500 MW power consumption in Tamil Nadu, they are being forced to suffer load shedding far more than domestic consumers. Many units have begun operating shifts with the help of diesel generators, but this is proving to be an expensive solution which is affecting the bottom line. There is also a growing feeling among indigenous industries that the state bit off far more than it could chew when it came to inviting large projects to set up base in and around Chennai. The increase in power consumption was not thought through in their opinion and there is also a feeling that multinationals are being given power at the expense of domestic companies. While there may be no basis for such a view, it does indicate that the state government has laid the ground for a potentially explosive situation on the power front. Perhaps it was against this background that the state only made a few feeble noises about bidding for the Nano project which eventually went to Gujarat.
There is no short term solution to the power crisis in the city and the state. Interestingly, on paper, the state can still claim to have surplus power for it has around 10500 MW installed capacity. However real time production is less. Poor rains have affected hydro- power and the shortage of fuel has meant that the atomic power plant at Kalpakkam is operating at sub-optimum capacity. Relief to some extent is expected when the Koodamkulam plant is commissioned in about six months from now. Most of the newly approved power units are only in the land identification stage right now. The losses in transmission and distribution of power are also significant with the state-controlled Electricity Board not performing at expected levels. Industry lobbies have been demanding the unbundling of production, distribution and transmission of power in the state to improve this, but there has been no response. The state government has on the other hand approached HT consumers with a proposal that they share the cost of power during evening hours. This if accepted will ensure that there is some relief given to units that rely on generators for their power during evening and other peak requirements.
If at all there is a bright side to the story, it is the increasing focus on non-conventional sources of energy. IT majors who account for at least 500MW of power consumption during peak-hours have begun discussing the viability of using solar panels. At least one IT major in the city has begun working with wind energy. The month of September in fact saw the shortfall in power in the state coming down due to a doubling of the wind power generated – from 600 MW to 1200 MW. It is to be hoped that such new thrusts will help in pulling the power sector out of its present mess.