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New Delhi: Lack of electricity may play the spoiler in a clutch of states, including the key electoral battleground of Uttar Pradesh (UP), in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. The northern grid to which these states belong does not have the required electricity transmission corridor for sourcing power from the western region.

While states across the country are gearing up to provide round-the-clock electricity for the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the northern grid comprising UP, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Chandigarh can only source 44 megawatts (MW) under the short-term market from the western grid.

These eight states account for 146 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and have been blamed for India’s worst grid failure. Of these, UP sends the maximum number of 80 lawmakers to the Lower House, followed by Rajasthan (25).

The trade in electricity sees a spike during elections as states, fearful of a political backlash, buy additional power to avoid outages.

The general election coincides with the peak Indian summer, but this year sees an additional worry—a looming threat of the El Niño weather phenomenon that is associated with below-average rainfall.

“There is not enough transmission facility declared for short-term market for the transfer of electricity from the western region to the northern region states. The maximum that can be transferred from the western region to the northern region under the short term is only 44MW," said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

The short-term market comprises spot and forward contracts.

India has an inter-regional electricity transmission capacity of 37,000MW, of which only 17,000MW can be transferred. Investments in transmission and distribution have not kept up with investments made in power generation. While the country has an installed power generation capacity of 234,000MW, the daily generation is only about 125,000MW.

“While no new capacity has come in the eastern region, electricity can’t be brought to the northern region from the W3 area from states such as Chattisgarh. As compared to a total demand of evacuating around 6,000MW to 7,000MW of total capacity from the western region to the northern states, only around 4,200MW can be brought in during the months of April and May. This is also the time when the Indian summer will hit its peak," added the government official quoted above.

The polls will be held in nine phases on 7 April, 9 April, 10 April, 12 April, 17 April, 24 April, 30 April, 7 May and 12 May.

A senior official of Power System Operation Corp. Ltd (Posoco), which oversees electricity load management and is a unit of state-owned Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd, confirmed the infrastructure constraint along with the rising risk of El Niño, which weakens the Asian monsoon.

According to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), India’s apex power sector planning body, the peak shortage in the northern region in January was 5.1%. This also comes in the backdrop of a CEA report that blamed the overdrawing of power by northern region states such as UP, Punjab and Haryana, and underdrawing of electricity by the western region states as a reason for a 2012 grid failure—India’s worst.

“Moving large amounts of electricity is an issue. Monsoon is the main key. While last year it was good, this year there is some concern due to El Niño. It is difficult to predict. A lot of capacity has been added. Also, the elections will be over by 12 May, with the paddy load from Punjab and Haryana coming in June. It should be okay," said the Posoco official, who also asked not to be identified.

Analysts believe that elections are not a good time for the Indian power sector.

“The pre-election phase in India is always difficult for the power sector. In most cases: 1) tariff hikes are postponed; 2) there is clamour for more benefits for farmers and residential customers; and 3) the subsidy burden increases for local state governments. So it is not surprising that some of the states have already started to pursue this agenda," UBS Global Equity Research wrote in a 31 January report.

The northern grid is the largest of the five regional power grids in India. The other grids are—southern, eastern, north-eastern and western.

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