Kerala reserves Rs 20 cr for reluctant coal power foray

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Feb 25 2008, 05:05am hrs
Kerala, which once frowned at an energy source other than the 85-paise per unit hydel power, has dumped its dislike of coal-based thermal power. In a quick step, the power-famished Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has provisioned to make its first tranche of investment in the 1,000-mw thermal project that it is planning with the Orissa and Gujarat power utilities.

Nearly Rs 20 crore has been earmarked in the next fiscal for Keralas share in the paid-up capital of the proposed three-state company to start exploration in Orissas coal mines, if the plan statement that KSEB has submitted to the State Electricity Tariff Regulatory Commission is any indication. At the same time, there is still dilemma over whether a population-dense state like Kerala can take a coal-based thermal power station, senior officials in KSEB told FE. Another alternative is to set up the Kerala government power plant at Orissa and get its output offset through the central grid. Anyhow, the thermal station is expected to be commissioned only in 2018, so the state has got a breather on that decision.

The Union ministry of coal had allotted 600 million tonne of coal deposits in Baitarani West block in Orissa to three states. Orissa Hydro Power Corporation, Gujarat Power Corporation and KSEB are packing their synergy into the coal exploration company probably this year itself. According to early feasibility studies, the coal in this block has the potential to feed a 1,000-mw thermal station for 40 years.

Energy demand growth has been so rapid that the state cannot afford to discount any resource in future, state power minister AK Balan said. In another signal of desperation, the 163-mw Athirappilly project, a hydel plan stalled for the last 10 years due to green millitancy, too has been pushed to the frontburner. This year, its trusted hydel power reserves (average hydel generation 1,300 mw against peak load demand of 2,800 mw) too did not stand KSEB in good stead. As if this was not enough, the Centre snipped off 133 mw of the boards entitlement from the central pool. A sore KSEB, thus, had no option but to put its non-hydel act together. Not surprisingly, out of the Rs 1,146-crore capital outlay for 2008-09, the board has set aside Rs 540.52 crore for the generation sector.