New Delhi: The Indian government has asked power generation utilities such as NTPC Ltd not to shut their thermal power plants for repairs and maintenance during the monsoon season due to soaring demand and lower-than-expected output from hydropower plants, which have been plagued by weak rainfall and high silt levels.
But, this directive could result in significant problems and potential power outages, say at least two government officials, a former power minister and a top executive of a power firm.
“A delay in conducting operation and maintenance work would lower the efficiency of the plants and result in power failures,” said one official who didn’t want to be identified. “Capacities of around 75,000MW are facing this risk.”
The official noted that while routine annual maintenance typically takes 10 days, capital maintenance requires plants to be closed for 50-60 days. The more intensive capital maintenance work is typically done every five years.
India has an installed hydropower capacity of 32,326MW and plans to add another 16,501.17MW by 2012. However, delays in securing environment and forest clearances have ensured that these targets will not be met, as reported by Mint on 22 July.
The official also noted that getting a consent to close plants for repairs is no longer easy in the face of growing power shortage. “Earlier, it used to be an automatic procedure but, with growing demand, any planned outage needs to be approved by the power ministry...such an approval is difficult to come by,” he noted.
A senior power ministry official also confirmed the problem. “We know that not shutting down thermal power plants for regular operations and maintenance work will lead to problems,” he conceded. “However, we do not have any control over less-than-expected rainfall during the monsoon season. The only solution is to have spare capacity to act as a cushion. A lot of hydropower projects are still awaiting regulatory clearances,” he said.
According to India’s meteorological department, though the country saw only a 2% dip in rainfall from what is normal, based on a 60-year average in July, the rainiest of the four monsoon months, large parts of south and central India saw shortfalls as high as 15% and 32% in both their June and July rainfall, respectively.
The majority of these thermal power units are owned by NTPC, India’s largest power generation utility, which has a power generation capacity of 29,394MW.
A senior NTPC executive said on the condition of anonymity: “This (the delay) is a huge problem. As per statutory requirements, these plants should be shut once a year for inspection and maintenance work, primarily for boilers...this will affect the health of the units.”
“The maintenance rules should be strictly adhered to... When we plan for capacity addition we never plan for redundancies or additional capacities required for operations and maintenance work. Not planning for spare capacity is the hallmark of India’s power sector planning process,” alleged Suresh Prabhu, former Union minister for power. Prabhu is a member of the Shiv Sena, which opposes the Congress-led Union government.
Historically, during the monsoon season, when there’s rise in hydropower generation, thermal generation units are shut for maintenance. However, with hydropower generation remaining stagnant mainly due to poor rainfall, there is no cushion to meet the growing demand. According to the Central Electricity Authority, or CEA, India’s apex power sector planning body, for the period between 1 April and 21 July, hydropower generation in the western, eastern and north-eastern states fell short of targets by 8%, 14% and 20%, respectively.
India has an installed power generation capacity of 143,000MW, of which around 85,000MW is thermal-based. According to CEA, 10,000MW of this capacity comprises old units and has an operational efficiency level of 70% and less, while the remaining capacity has an efficiency level of 80% and above. It is this capacity having a higher efficiency level that is being made to operate continuously.
Jacob P. Koshy contributed to this story.