Chennai has begun to feel the heat of load-shedding once again. On Sunday evening, power supply was suspended for nearly an hour in several parts of north Chennai, including Kilpauk, Purasawalkam, Vepery, Sowcarpet, Choolai, Broadway and Park Town.
Erratic power cuts are regular now. Tangedco officials attributed the cuts to overheating power cables. Transformers too were regularly developing snags due to the load. This is often customary during summers, given the increased usage of air coolers and air conditioners.
In the backdrop of this all, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa proclaimed that she had solved the power crisis in a campaign rally in Coimbatore on Sunday. â€śIn the last year, the state has received 7,485 MW of power. From last June, there has been no power cut in the state,â€ť she announced. As per her 2014 Palayamkottai rally, transformer snags were a conspiracy by the opposition.
The power crisis has become a major issue for political parties, which blame each other and none more so than the two Dravidian stalwartsâ€”the AIADMK and DMKâ€”that have ruled the state for over four decades.
But is Amma's claim true?
â€śThe AIADMK government believes it has solved the crisis after it had bought power from private companies to bridge the deficit,â€ť says S Gandhi of the Power Engineers Society of TN, who believes she had done this as a measure to quickly rid herself of PSU red-tapism. She had stated in a 2014 letter to the Prime Minister that the shortfall was primarily due to low generation by central generating stations. This included the joint venture with NTPC, and the new thermal power projects under trial production, which were yet to be handed over by BHEL to Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO).
But does buying power solve it all? â€śPower is going to be expensive, and the cost is going to fall on the consumer. We also donâ€™t know if the grid can handle it.â€ť In 2014, the national grid was linked to the southern grid, with a single link. This existing single link is, however, capable of carrying only 800 MW (despite a 2,500 MW capacity on paper). If power flows were to exceed this, the line could potentially trip. â€śThere isnâ€™t enough substation infrastructure to handle this load either, so good luck to the next government,â€ť he added. TNEB also suffers a debt of 74,000 crore rupees.
But what is the situation in industry-intensive Coimbatore where Jayalalithaa made the statement?
Coimbatore district witnessed a 12 per cent increase in its power consumption this March as compared to March 2015, as reported in The Hindu. The report also states a 10 per cent expansion in the overall consumption of electricity by the industries of the region alone.
More than fearing a power shortage however, the 760,000 registered micro and small enterprises that employ 5.3 million people in Coimbatore are reeling from the after effects of years of power cuts.
â€śWe have a huge issue with the increase in tariffs.In the case of micro units, the supply is under section 3B. In the last four years, the tariff has increased by 100 per cent. â€śIf they are unable to reduce the tariff, we request the Government to place micro units under 3A1. It will bring down the power cost,â€ť says S. Ravi Kumar, president of Coimbatore Tirupur District Tiny and Micro Enterprises Association.
Productivity has also taken a hit. â€śThe usage has reduced because many units have shut down, at least 20,000 small industries. From 2011-2013, the situation was so bad that many had to shut shop. Orders were diverted on a large scale, and even stopped on a later date. So power usage naturally reduced by 2015,â€ť says J. James, Coimbatore district president of the Tamil Nadu Association of Cottage and Micro Enterprises that has 4,000 members in Coimbatore.
Since 2012, the consumption is said to have reduced drastically at 10 PM, when these establishments are shut for the day. â€śBecause of the power debacle between 2011-2014, where power cuts lasted for over 12 hours, orders were diverted to the north. In 2014, the power usage had largely evened out, but the number of industries that exist now, have almost halved since 2013. The power consumption is back up again, so we don't know what's going to happen.â€ť
The reliance on power from the private sector seems to be a largely face-saving measure for now. The government had, in 2015 announced the setting up of a 4,000 MW thermal plant in Ramanathapuram district and TANGEDCO has also planned to establish a 1,600 MW thermal power plant in Uppur, a rural constituency in the district, to meet the demands of the district.
While many agree that Amma may have helped bridge the deficit, and attribute lesser power shortages to the AIADMK government, the after effects of the power deficit and the possible increase in tariffs continue to haunt consumers and industries.