Kerala bets on hydel power despite clouds

Written by M Sarita Varma | Updated: Sep 9 2009, 03:50am hrs
Hydel-power dependent Kerala is smarting under 1,870 million units power deficit this season, following truant rains. But this has not deterred, Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) the least from putting its investment nest egg in the hydel power stream once again. Out of its Rs 1,370-crore investment plans (generation, transmission and distribution) for 2009-2010, as much as Rs 403 crore is earmarked for generation schemes, mainly hydel. The outlay for generation is mainly for five ongoing plus 16 new hydro-electric schemes and seven wind projects. The state has just two thermal projects, since it usually pins its hope on surviving on an 80:20 (hydel power to thermal power) ratio.

Kuttiyadi Extension (50 mw), Kuttiyadi Additional Extension (100 mw) and Pallivasal Extension (60 mw) are the hydel schemes getting additional investment this year. The outlay for these runs to Rs 74 crore. All this is when hydel power yield from KSEB's reservoirs have been at a low point eking out about 2,381 million units. If the second monsoon (North East monsoon) is good enough another 1,000-1,200 million units could be added. Even this is not sufficient as the states average daily consumption has spiraled to 46.56 million units per day.

State power minister AK Balan told FE that the situation now warranted a clampdown on consumption or a tariff-hike. First of all, the states power quota from the central pool has suddenly shrunk from 900 mw to 650 mw. Secondly, poor yield from hydel reservoirs is creating an expensive predicament, he says.

Top KSEB officials say that Kerala is likely to clamp load shedding on prime hours, after the festival season of Onam. Tariff-hike alone cannot meet the mounting crisis since buying power from other state electricity boards at Rs 13.50 per unit will bleed KSEB by Rs 1,250 crore at one go. The previous tariff hike had fetched just Rs 136 crore.

Thermal power too is not beyond agenda, says Balan. For the first time, KSEB has set apart Rs 20 crore as its stakes for a coal mining venture in Orissa. Ten years later, this is counted on to blossom out to a joint sector thermal station with other power utilities. But, rains or no rains, it is the hydel power route that KSEB still trusts for the medium term.

Besides the 16 new hydro-electric projects, the Board has already tendered for the 164-mw Athirapilly project and the 40-mw Thottiyar project with an outlay of Rs 65 crore. Kerala had been stiffly resistant to thermal power and nuclear power stations in its development dialectics.

In the case of the Athirapilly project, KSEB has even burned its fingers with court cases several times. When Athirapilly project finally got the ministry of environment clearance in 2005, it ran into into a cost-escalation clause issue with the HCC-BHEL consortium. In its loyalty to hydel power goal, the state is even swimming a tide of litigation for the 164-mw project this season.