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Power crisis looms in Punjab as coal shortage hits plants amid summer demand surge

3 power production units in Punjab go out of operation in a short span, with one temporarily non-functional for maintenance. State's cumulative power generation down by 1,200 MW.

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Chandigarh: While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab is yet to roll out its promise of 300 units of free electricity per month for every household, the state is already slipping into a power crisis.

Amid a shortage of coal stock, three power production units in the state have gone out of operation in a short span, while one is temporarily non-functional for annual maintenance. With that, the state’s cumulative power generation has come down by at least 1,200 MW, even as demand appears to increase on account of the summer, a senior government official said.

And several units across other power plants are operating below capacity, the official added.

Punjab has five thermal power plants. The Lehra Mohabbat (920 MW) and Ropar (840 MW) plants have four power production units each, Talwandi Sabo (1,980 MW) in Mansa has three units, and GVK (540 MW) in Goindval Sahib and Rajpura (1,400 MW) in Patiala have two units each.

Currently, the units at GVK are non-functional, as is one unit each at Ropar and Talwandi Sabo, the senior official said.

According to Baldev Singh Sran, chairman and managing director of Punjab State Power Corporation (PSPCL), the GVK plant has no coal stock left. 

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, the Lehra Mohabbat plant had 8 days’ stock, the Ropar plant (where one unit is non-functional because of some technical issues) had 10 days’ stock, Rajpura had 14 days’ stock, and the Talwandi plant (where one unit is temporarily shut for annual maintenance) had 2 days’ stock left, Sran said.

The government, he added, has terminated its power purchase agreement with the GVK plant – which essentially means it is not going to be operational any time soon — but the other two will resume operations shortly, Sran added.

Senior officials in the government said all the coal mines are located more than 1,000 km away from Punjab, so thermal plants are supposed to have 28 days’ stock at any given point.

When asked how Punjab will manage stable supplies in the coming days, Sran said: “We have arrangements in place.”

Punjab Power Secretary Dilip Kumar told ThePrint that he met central government officers in Delhi Monday over the power crisis. “We are doing our best to resolve the issue at the earliest,” he said.

A second senior government official said several regions in the state, especially rural pockets, have started witnessing long power cuts.

However, Sran said power cuts in villages cannot be fully attributed to the shortage. There is also the factor of farmers requesting transmission cuts to prevent fire accidents in wheat fields in the day hours.

According to a source in the AAP, detailed discussions on the power crisis also took place Tuesday at a two-and-a-half-hour meeting between party chief Arvind Kejriwal, who is the chief minister of Delhi, and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann in the national capital.

ThePrint reached Punjab Power Minister Harbhajan Singh through phone calls and text messages, but he did not respond till the time of publishing this story.

Also read: ‘Nothing wrong in taking guidance’, says AAP after flak over Delhi CM Kejriwal ‘remote controlling’ Punjab

Battling coal shortage

The first government officer mentioned above said the operational thermal plant units across Punjab are working much below their capacity because of a coal stock shortage.

Punjab is recording daily power demand of around 7,200 MW as of now, which is likely to increase with the summer heat and the paddy-sowing period in June, the officer added.

On 6 April, Punjab Power Minister Harbhajan Singh met Union Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi and sought additional coal rakes for the state’s thermal power stations for the peak paddy season, which sees high electricity demand.

He also met Union Power Minister R.K. Singh, and sought greater allocation of power to the state due to peak season demand, and discussed the concerns of the state over the ongoing coal crisis and power-related issues of Punjab.

A coal shortage crisis has been looming over India for a while because of a reported demand-supply mismatch — with several states facing power shortage late last year. 

A 12 April Reuters report, quoting officials and analysts, said India is likely to face more power cuts this year as “utilities’ coal inventories are at the lowest pre-summer levels in at least nine years and electricity demand is expected to rise at the fastest pace in at least 38 years”.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Spike in demand, coal shortage, pvt players quoting high prices — why Andhra has a power crisis

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