Power crisis: July 2012 forgotten as 'gridlock' looms again due to coal shortages

Written by Pallavi Ail | sumitjha | New Delhi/Mumbai | Updated: Aug 29 2014, 17:09pm hrs
Power CrisisTransmission frequency at the northern grid has fallen below the requisite 49.9 hertz stability threshold for considerable periods in recent days. (Thinkstock)
An acute shortage of coal has come to afflict scores of power plants in northern and western India, putting a squeeze on generation and the grids at grave risk. Although the respective load despatch centres in both regions have acted swiftly and issued alert to states against overdrawing power, the industry has turned wary of outages similar to the massive power failure witnessed in the northern and eastern parts of the country during the last two days of July 2012.

Transmission frequency at the northern grid has fallen below the requisite 49.9 hertz stability threshold for considerable periods in recent days, forcing the regional load despatch centre to issue alerts to the distribution companies of the nine states in the region against overdrawals.

Click here for graph

According to sources, the Northern Regional Load Despatch Centre on Wednesday sounded the alarm for the state discoms in its region following a spate of thermal power plant closures due to shortage of coal.

Further shutdowns of plants could result in SOS conditions as some states have been found to be overdrawing, it said. Against 50,173 MW of peak demand on Wednesday, there was a generation loss of about 5,000 MW in the region. Despite this, some states, especially Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir, are resorting to overdrawals.

The Western Regional Load Despatch Centre (WRLDC) issued a similar warning late on Wednesday saying the regional grid was severely affected. The loss of generation capacity is estimated by the centre at 5,843 MW, mainly attributable to coal scarcity.

Sources said seven power generating stations owned by state-owned Maharashtra State Power Generation, Lanco Infratech, Indiabulls and NTPC were among the ones facing a capacity squeeze.

Following the grid collapse in July 2012, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission had narrowed the frequency range to between 49.95 and 50.05 hertz. The regulator also directed the load despatch centres to install automatic demand management systems to avert similar crises in future. There was also a move to penalise the top managements of defaulting discoms at a personal level to ensure grid integrity.

A grid collapse now would have serious implications for the economy, especially since industrial production is beginning to look up after several months of tepidness.

Since June last year, the southern grid, which had been unconnected to the rest of the country, was been integrated to the national grid, and a failure of the transmission network in any part of the country would now have wider repercussions, analysts said.

Praveer Sinha, CEO of Tata Power Delhi Distribution, told FE: Despite many power plants being unable to generate power due to shortage of coal, annual maintenance shutdown, etc, TPDDL has made adequate arrangements for power and no load shedding or power cut is being done in its area of north and northwest Delhi and full peak load of around 1,600 MW is being met. We are, however, keeping a close watch on the situation and are fully prepared to meet any eventuality.

Adani Power, as per WRLDC, has shut down some units of its Mundra thermal power plant which generates about 2,700 MW due to shortage of coal and non-payment of dues by Haryana power distribution companies. The company's station, which has a long-term power purchase agreement of 1,424 MW with Haryana, closed three units on Wednesday along with another unit of 660 MW in Kawai, Rajasthan. When contacted, Adani Power refused to comment.

Tata Power said its subsidiary Coastal Gujarat Power has shut down two units totalling 1,600 MW capacity at its Mundra UMPP due to boiler tube leakage and reheater isolator leakage on Wednesday. The company added that the remaining 2,400 MW capacity was operational.

Reliance Power said one unit of 300 MW was shut down two days ago for maintenance work, and there is no definite date as of now when it will be back in operation. Reliance Power's thermal power plant located in Rosa in UP consists of four units of 300 MW each.

FE had earlier reported that an acute shortage of coal has gripped thermal plants, both private as well as state-run utilities, in UP, with many of them operating with four to seven days of coal stocks as against the minimum requirement of a fortnights stock. Lancos Anpara C is unable to use its capacity optimally while UP Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam, too, is unable to run its 210 MW Parichha plant, again for want of coal.

The massive grid failure of July 2012 plunged close to 300 million people into darkness. The northern grid collapsed first, followed by the eastern and northeastern regional grids the next day, affecting generation, industry and public transportation. The grid failure was attributed to Punjab, Haryana and UP overdrawing power as demand soared due to a late monsoon.

Sumit Jha & Pallavi Ail