Kashmir’s endemic power crises explained
Outages may only worsen as mercury dips further in coming days
Srinagar: Even as the winter season has just begun, frequent power breakdowns have become a source of big heart- and head-ache for people across the Valley.
Irony is that the Power Development Department (PDP), which is responsible for transmission and distribution of electricity in the UT, has made its own recently announced ‘power curtailment schedule’ into a big joke.
According to the announced schedule, non-metered areas of the Valley were supposed to have a 4-hour, and metered areas 3-hour daily dose of curtailment (1 hour each slot 4 and 3 times a day respectively). However, the fact is that most of the areas across face hours-long unscheduled power breakdowns on each day.
‘Kashmir Images’ spoke to many people in different urban and rural areas to know the condition of the ongoing power crisis. Most of the areas, on an average, face 5, 6, and sometimes up to 7-hour power cuts a day.
“I cannot tell exactly how many times the power goes off in a day because there is no schedule followed for the power cuts by the department. But I can say with authenticity that we face at least 5 to 6-hour power outages everyday,” Farooq Ahmad, a resident of north Kashmir’s Baramulla town told ‘Kashmir Images’.
The frequent power cuts do not only affect studies of students and business of the shopkeepers but, it creates hardships for the ailing people as well.
Many COVID patients, who are on an oxygen support at their homes face threat to their lives whenever electricity goes off, as their oxygen concentrators becomes useless in the absence of power supply.
“My grandmother was recently declared Covid positive; she has been advised to use an oxygen support system at home. She feels the need to use supplemental oxygen several times a day. I had to ensure that the power supply is available whenever she requires oxygen concentrator, so I bought an inverter to make sure that power disruption does not put her to risk,” Aijaz Wani, a Srinagar resident said.
The experts say that in terms of power cuts, the worst is yet to come. They cite the growing gap between the supply and demand of electricity as a reason for their assumption.
However, M Y Baba, Chief Engineer, J&K Power Corporation Limited, claims that the department is trying to ensure that there are no power cuts beyond the announced schedule.
“We aim to make sure there are only three hour power cuts in metered areas and four hours in non-metered areas,” Baba said adding “compared to last year, we are providing 15 percent more electricity to our consumers this winter. For this, we have got a 20 percent increase in the current financial year budget.
“Presently, we are providing about 1500 megawatt (MW), power in the Valley. We have also done some precautionary works like cutting the branches of trees and repairing the ulnerable supply lines to make sure that the catastrophic events and long outages during the snowfall are averted.
“I assure people that the department will follow its announced curtailment schedules strictly,” the Chief Engineer pledged.
However, the ground reality is different. Sources in the department assert that the shortage of power forces the department for unscheduled power cuts.
They also say that there are many reasons other reasons including inadequate infrastructure and faulty transmission lines for the ongoing power crises in the Valley.
“The crisis can be briefly explained by saying that we have less availability of energy against a huge demand for it by the consumers. During summers, the peak load in the Valley was 1200 MW. We used to generate 200 MW from UT-owned projects and the remaining 1000 MW was imported from outside the Valley.
“Therefore, like every summer, we did not face any shortage of power this summer. However, as far as winter is concerned, our power demand abruptly doubles while our generation capacity drops by 75 percent due to reduced discharge in our rivers,” they said.
The critical part of the situation is that “we cannot import power beyond a particular limit as our available infrastructure will not support it. We lack the required receiving stations and the proper transmission lines. We do not have sufficient 220/132 KV substations, transmission corridors, and regional supply lines to import electricity for meeting the requirements,” they informed.
Until last year, “we had a capacity to import only up to 1200 MW from the outside. Now since the Alasteng grid station is functional, our import capability has enhanced to 1500 MW. But this too is not enough.
“This simply means that there will be a shortage of power the entire winter,” an official who did not want to be named, told ‘Kashmir Images’.
“Get ready to face the worst because during the harsh winter days, the power demand will increase further, while the supply will remain static,” he warned.
In Kashmir, during Chillai-Kalan, (the 40-day long period of extreme cold), most of the households use heat blowers, heaters, geysers, and other warming devices that run on electricity. Obviously this means increased load and increased demand.
“According to our assessment, the demand for the power supply will go up to 2800 MW in December. Nobody can help in this situation. Even after managing all our resources, including importing electricity, we will not be able to provide more than 1500 or 1600 MW to our consumers,” another senior official said on the condition that he may not be identified.
“Our present infrastructure is incapable of supporting us to increase the energy imports. Increasing the import beyond a limit is not possible at all. To change the situation and to enhance our power supply capability, we need to rebuild our infrastructure and mechanism. It is a matter of investment of thousands of crore rupees and years of work. Nothing is going to change overnight. This sounds bitter, but this is the reality,” the official added.
An important reason for power crisis in Kashmir is related to finance. Official sources say that on one hand, a subsidized power supply is being provided to consumers but things like power-theft are increasing difficulties for the department.
“We lose a large amount of electricity to hooking and other ways of power theft besides of course to the damaged transmission lines. Mostly the residents, government departments, and security forces’ camps are involved in large-scale power theft. Kashmir is a leading place across India in the Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses of electricity. Our AT&C power losses are up to 64.5 percent. Due to these reasons, a large amount of power is not billed,” said another official.
Chief Engineer Baba explained the situation: “The electricity we supply a day costs us Rs 18 to 20 crore. However, we get only Rs 2 to 2.50 crore as daily average revenue. Last fiscal, we spent a whopping Rs 6069 crore on purchasing electricity and we got the just Rs 2375 crore as revenue. It does not matter whether we get electricity from the UT-owned projects or Centre-owned projects, or from somewhere else — the fact is it costs us. Importing more electricity means spending more money. We have our limitations according as our budget allocations are limited.”
Clearly, the ongoing power crisis is a complicated and a deeply rooted problem. The successive governments have miserably failed to build up required infrastructure to meet the demand in the Valley.
Current power crisis stems from huge difference in demand and supply. Since the demand will increase as the minimum temperature drops more in coming days and weeks, the power crisis could further deepen in the Valley.