Kerala Cabinet to stage dharna in Delhi Tuesday, Oct 7 2008 

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan with a few of his Cabinet colleagues

V. S. Achuthanandan with a few of his Cabinet colleagues

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan is proud of his plan to go to Delhi and stage a dharna there on October 17. He says that it is because he would be expounding people’s cause. His protest is against the Centre neglecting the States demands for better quotas of grain, power and other concessions.

However, he would be striking a blow to Indian federalism. Such actions reflect weakening of our institutional systems. One need not doubt that the Chief Minister has genuine grievances when he leads his Cabinet and State legislatures to Delhi in protest. But it is also to be observed that both the State and Central governments have failed to deal with each other in an effective and fair manner. The Members of Parliament, representing the State, have failed to play their role effectively in Parliament. Why could not they represent the State properly? All 20 of them were supporting the UPA Government until recently.

There is also little doubt the Chief Minister has other compulsions in rushing tot the Centre at this juncture. It is part of his strategy for winning seats for his Front in the coming Lok Sabha elections. So, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take the matter seriously and deal with it in a statesman like manner. It is in the country’s interest that the two leaders settle their differences, if any, over the table rather than on the streets. Petty politics should not come in the way of settlement. For the Indian Union shall not become a wonderland of an emperor, empress and satraps.

The UDF response is typical. It will stage a dharna and disrupt traffic before the Secretariat on the same day (October 17) against tariff hikes. Well, they can easily forget that prices have risen all over India.

Related: Power crisis in Kerala

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KSEB: To be or not to be Monday, Sep 22 2008 

Power lines

Power lines

Kerala State Electricity Board becomes an illegal entity on September 24 for not complying with the Central Electricity Act.

Agreements signed between the Board and supplies and consumers may not be valid before the law, unless the Centre extends time to the Board for its restructuring as per the provisions of the Act.

There is little doubt that the Act is meant to facilitate privatization of the utility. The Left Democratic Front ruled government is unwilling to privatize the Board. Hence, its refusal to obey the law.

However, the prime concern should be whether privatization would benefit the public at large. Several countries keep their electric utilities in the public sector. This facilitates control over generation and pricing of electricity, which can be considered a primary commodity. The stakes are high in generation that it may be justified to keep generation in the public sector. However, the same cannot be said about distribution.

The Board has for long failed to provide the consumers quality power and satisfactory service. Disruption of supply and low voltages are common, especially in the rural areas. The Board has hardly ever provided supply as per quality norms stipulated by the law. Though storage in its reservoirs have improved, it unable to relax the power cut and load shedding as several of its generators are in disrepair. Many sectors in the State are suffering huge losses because of increased expenditure on power. The marine export sector alone is said to have suffered a loss of around Rs. 200 crores.

Corruption is rampant that consumers have to pay bribes to get connections, urgent repairs and even to get disrupted power supply restored.

So, with privatization and strict regulation, it would be possible to ensure accountability in the distribution sector. We have the example of the Telecommunications Department, which was converted into a public sector company and made to compete with the private sector. The efficiencies improved though may not be to the satisfaction of all. (But they have a choice.) The linemen no more ask for a bribe to service a telephone connection.

So, things could improve if private players are allowed into the distribution sector. In the generation sector, private players already operate small hydel projects and wind power stations. The generation sector could be opened up further, though not entirely. Transmission could remain with a public sector entity.

However, it is to be remembered that restructuring is not a big success in States such as Orissa. So, restructuring of Kerala Electricity Board would have to be undertaken under strict regulations and governmental supervision.

Update: The Government has taken over the assets and liabilities of the Board with effect from Sept. 25 as a prelude to its restructuring.

Energy inefficiency during Onam celebrations Tuesday, Sep 9 2008 

Kerala Secretariat illuminated for Onam festival.

Kerala Secretariat illuminated for Onam festival.

As the Power Minister A. K Balan is touring Austria, Denmark and Germany to study about demand side management, Kerala government is practicing inefficiency back home.

Dozens of diesel/kerosene generators will churn out green house gases and generate costly electricity to power the illumination of the city for the Onam festival. As the State is facing worsening power cut, no electricity will be provided from the State grid. In the past, the practice was to do away with illumination during the festival.

Trivandrum City Corporation building illuminated for Onam

Trivandrum City Corporation building illuminated for Onam

However, business interests have prevailed and they have even promised sponsor the illumination. No, surprise because of the quantum of business brought in by Onam is only growing year after year.

If the State Electricity Board wanted, it could have routed more efficiently produced thermal power from other States for the businesses (which it is already doing for the industries). But the Board and government probably thought that it would be difficult to convince the public of the logic when the people are facing load shedding.

The power cut and load shedding in the State are the result of both the failure of monsoon and mismanagement. Though the reservoir of the Sabarigiri project is now nearly full, the Government is unable to use it as only two of the six generators of the 300 MW is functional. The powerhouse is under renovation and the work, which was to be completed in 2007, is nowhere near completion. Water is going waste elsewhere as generators are under maintenance.

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Invited accidents at power plants Wednesday, May 21 2008 

Power transmission towerThe explosions at Moozhiyar and pipeburst at Panniar hydroelectrict generation stations that killed seven people (four at Moozhiyar and three at Panniar) were accidents that could have been avoided. The accidents were the results of gross negligence in maintenance.

In fact, all generating stations under the State Electricity Board suffers from want of timely maintenance. This not only causes loss of lives but heavy financial losses too in terms of subsequent repair costs and loss of power generation (both from lower efficiencies and shut down). Accidents are rare in well-maintained hydel generating stations.

The accident at Moozhiyar was waiting to happen (so also was that at Panniar). The gap between the rotor and stator of the generating unit had been widening for sometime. But the authorities did not take it as a warning signal. The generating station also lacked proper alarm and safety systems including fire safety systems. According to reports, fires could not be controlled even after fire service personnnel arrived.

At Panniar, the pen stocks had coroded and that had not happened overnight. The accident at Panniar also pointed to lack of training. The workers who attempted to plug the leakage of penstocks apparantly did not know how to do it safely. They closed the valves letting in water into the generators without closing the inlet and not thinking of the (water) hammering.

Though State Electricity Board officials had been going to Canada often for so called training, the Board had been depending on suppliers and outside consultaties to solve even minor maintenance/ repair problems. For years, the Board has not cared to keep its civil and electrical engineers well-trained and competent.

Many of its power stations are overstaffed by modern standards. Fewer personnel are required at power stations these days, if modern control systems are installed. The can even be managed remotely.

Power Minister’s magical moments Friday, May 2 2008 

Electricity Minister A. K. BalanKerala’s Power Minister A. K Balan flagged off a blindfolded motor ride by magicians by staging his own magic in Trivandrum early this week. The message was “Save Power, Save Kerala.” He pulled out theme banners and did a few other tricks.

But, the real magic by Mr. Balan was in reducing consumption during peak hours this summer. The Kerala State Electricity Board had been running campaigns calling upon people to switch of bulbs during peak hours. The Minister claimed the campaign, which used celebrities, was a big success. The peak hour consumption in summer did not rise, but dropped compared to the previous year. The saving was of the order of 200 MW.

What was the trick behind this magic? Well, repairs were delayed. Some interior areas did not get power for more than 48 hours at a stretch. Even in Trivandrum city, power went off regularly in some areas. The Board compelled some major consumers to shed load during peak hours. Then, the summer rains helped— fewer fans were on. May be a few switched off lights heeding the calls of super stars.

However, Mr. Balan and his predecessors have done magic if they had intensely promoted energy efficiency including use of CFL lamps. The power savings would have been tremendous. The Board would have gained even if it subsidized CFL lamps. It could also have set up non-conventional energy generating stations when Centre was offering 100 per cent subsidy.

What the Board could not do in 16 years, a private company did in 100 days at Ramackalmedu by erecting wind turbines. Now, should be oppose corporatisation or even privatization of KSEB? In the telecommunication sector, the private companies have done wonders. They will do the same in the power sector also. However, it is imperative to keep them under tight regulations to prevent exploitation.

For further reading:
Electricity Boards can save millions by subsidising energy efficiency

Mismangement of power generation Friday, Jan 4 2008 

electric powerLoad sheddingThe load shedding, declared by Kerala State Electricity Board from January 1-15, is the result of gross mismanagement of power generation.

Kerala had copious rains this year and its reservoirs had record inflows this year. Yet, the Board ended up with a shortage.

There are a few things that led to this situation. The Board resorted to excess generation during the monsoons, overestimating the inflows and sold some power to neighouring States. It failed to maintain full reservoir levels by the end of the North East monsoon. It is understandable that the Board was cautious with Idukki reservoir because of the risk posed by the spillage from the Mullapperiyar reservoir. However, there is little justification to its failure with respect to other major reservoirs such as those of Sabarigiri Project.

Maintenance of generating stations by the Board has been poor for years. This is taking its toll in terms of outage. The accident at Panniyar and the resultant loss of generation could be blamed on poor maintenance and poor supervision.

The load shedding would hit the small information technology and other industrial units, as they have to spend more on uninterrupted power supplies. The beneficiaries were those who brought bulk power from Kerala. An enquiry is perhaps in order to see that the load shedding became necessary by default or design.