Slugfest within govt holds up independent grid operator

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi | Updated: May 7 2014, 14:10pm hrs
Well over a year-and-a-half after the electricity grid collapse in July 2012, the most concrete measure prescribed by the government in its aftermath to bolster grid security and prevent a repeat of the crisis continues to hang fire amid strident opposition to the proposal from different arms of the government.

A crucial expenditure finance committee (EFC) meeting on Monday chaired by expenditure secretary Ratan P Watal to take up a proposal to hive off the Power System Operation Corporation Ltd (POSOCO) the operator entrusted with managing one of the worlds largest integrated grids into an independent company was marked by a lack of consensus amid opposition to the move from the Planning Commission, law ministry and the Department of Public Enterprises representatives, who attended the meeting. The reason cited against the proposal include whether there was the need to create such a small Schedule A company with practically no turnover and on how transmission was not a very important element in electricity costing and therefore did not yet need another public sector undertaking.

POSOCO is currently headed by an executive director-level officer and functions, ironically, as a subsidiary of the largest player in the countrys transmission sector Power Grid Corp (PGCIL). Incidentally, the process of circulating the EFC memo ahead of the meeting was also mired in delays amid a number of objections cropping up, allegedly on the behest of stakeholders opposed to POSOCO being vested with full autonomy.

At the meeting, power secretary PK Sinha is learnt to have rebutted the points raised against the move to hive off POSOCO into a separate firm and buttressed the need for an independent operator in a sector where there are multiple private transmission licencees. System operation, Sinha said, is a critical function that needs to be handled by a neutral party, an official who attended the meeting said. He also stressed the need to ensure that technical staffers with POSOCO be offered high salaries to draw in the best manpower.

In the wake of two consecutive grid failures on July 30-31, 2012, the ministry conducted a study to investigate the reasons and the mitigation measures. Granting full autonomy to POSOCO, which was the most important suggestion, envisaged the creation of a new Schedule A firm so that the grid operator can be insulated from any pressure from stakeholders, including its parent PGCIL. In the era of multiple transmission licensees, it was seen that in the fitness of things, POSOCO should be able to function as a neutral party and independently deal with the problems in the day-to-day operation of the grid, including unwanted tripping due to improper commissioning of equipment, improper maintenance of PGCILs communication network and the lack of preventive maintenance.

A case in point is the crucial 765 kV Raichur-Solapur line that was declared commissioned by PGCIL on December 31, 2013. Touted as a key link that hooked up the southern region with the grid of the rest of the country, the line tripped about five times in the first month of operations. Even as this resulted in the accidental separation of the southern grid from that for the rest of the country a couple of times, POSOCO stayed away from as much as making a comment on the events.