‘Power crisis to continue for now; Center looking to increase imported coal blending to 20 pc’

Dinesh Waghmare, Principal Secretary of Maharashtra’s energy department, speaking about the power crisis faced by the state, the steps being taken to ensure uninterrupted supply of coal, and how the state is preparing itself to insulate its power grids from cyber attacks:

Due to the coal shortage there is a power crisis in the state. Can you give us a brief on the problems you faced?

For the past one month, there has been an increase by several folds in the demand of power compared to last year during the same period when the demand was 21,000 megawatt. Now, we are handling 28,000 megawatt. This is mostly because of spurt in commercial and industrial activities. Post-Covid activities have increased manifold. The other reason is that due to the heatwave, (power) demand has increased. Simultaneously, there were also a lot of problems in our power-generation capacity. So, most of our power comes from thermal sources. As far as thermal power sources are concerned, coal shortage has been our biggest concern.

How severe is the coal crisis in Maharashtra?

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The coal crisis situation is going to be with us for a long time. It is not a temporary situation. So, we have to cope up with that for a long period. We hope within four to five months, it will be sorted out. We have initiated certain measures towards it. Number one, we are going for blending imported coal with domestic. Last year, we did not have any blending. This year, we started with four per cent blending. We have asked the government of India to allow 10 per cent blending. The Center is looking to increase imported coal blending to 20 per cent and a formal notification in the regard is likely to come soon. We had talks with the Centre. We have sought an extra 10 per cent import of coal. The total coal requirement for MSEB, which is the state power utility and predominantly main power supplier to Maharashtra, works to 32 lakh metric tonne a year. We have already placed orders for 22 lakh metric tonne. Another 12 lakh metric tonne is in process of tendering. Last year, whatever quantity was offered by the government of India, we lifted the entire coal. This year, we have lifted 15 per cent of the coal allocated by the Centre. In imported coal, the gross calorific value is much better than domestic coal. The domestic coal has ash content of 33 per cent. In imported coal, ash content is just 4 to 5 per cent.

The domestic coal requirement will be less when we blend it with imported coal.

What will be the financial implications of importing coal? Will it be passed on to consumers?

Yes, imported coal works out to be expensive. Currently, we are getting domestic coal at Rs 3,000 to 3,200 per metric tonne. The cost of imported coal is Rs 11,000 per metric tonne. It is a huge jump in prices. The overall power tariff rates will increase.

Does this mean we will have an increase in power bills? And what will be the quantum of increase?

Definitely, if we are importing coal and we do not want load shedding and power shortage, the tariffs will have to go up. The rough estimate is that power bills will go up by 40-50 paise per unit if imported coal blending is enhanced to 20 per cent. There are various factors, including different suppliers of coal, the distance from the country of origin, the distance from the thermal power plant, from the port. But roughly, it will be 40-50 paise.

While the government is urging power companies to tell people to save electricity due to higher demand, IPL matches are being held in various cities in Maharashtra and huge amounts of electricity is being required for it. Any appeal made to them to save energy?

We have an energy conservation plan and our nodal agency for creating awareness on energy conservation is Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA). They do it through various social media activities, print media and other mediums. We need to put more focus on energy conservation. Of course, these events are very popular and you can’t just stop them because of commercial implications. Probably, the distribution utilities can come up with some kind of restrictions on consumption of large amounts of electricity on such kinds of events.

A lot of cyber security experts feel that there will be cyber attacks on power grids using malware. Is there any blueprint on how to face such a situation?

We have prepared a plan on cyber security. Earlier, we did not go for cyber audit but now we are doing cyber audit every six months. We have appointed Ernst & Young as our cyber security expert. They have been doing regular audits. Apart from that there is a separate team from the government of India and separate agency for grid and transmission lines. They have various parameters and you have to comply with them. Then we have identified critical information infrastructure. We have submitted our critical infrastructure plan before the National Critical Infrastructure Center, which is based in IIT-Mumbai. Once the plan is approved by the government of India, these infrastructure will be treated as critical and then any attempt to attack them will be treated as an offense and accordingly, action can be taken.

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Is there a significant rise in power theft post-Covid 19 in the state?

Power threat has been an issue mostly in rural areas and especially in agricultural consumers. In some of the feeders, there has been a loss of almost up to 60 per cent. If you consider average technical and commercial losses, it is 17-18 per cent, so whatever the gap is, that is the theft of the electricity. And particularly in Marathwada, there has been a huge electricity theft. The solution is to segregate the feeders and put them on solar power and you will get economical and cheap energy for agricultural consumers. There is also a discussion going on to have a separate company for agriculture consumers. Let’s say as of now you are getting a subsidy from govt of Maharashtra at 0.2 to 0.4 per unit. If you set up a solar power plant, which will produce energy roughly at 2.3 to 2.4, it will balance out. If you include the subsidy component, this subsidy the distribution company will get, that way it will balance out. Roughly, if you pair out your loan, all the power will be free-of-cost. With solar power and segregation of feeders, theft will go away.

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