September 7, 2011

Blackout days to be back, govt can't afford coal

TNN Sep 6, 2011, 06.22am IST

KOLKATA: Brace for regular, or shall we say "rotational", power cuts in the city. West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd (WBPDCL) has drawn up a roster for shutting down its three power stations as coal companies have cut down supply to the state agency. They have threatened to reduce it even further unless the Mamata Banerjee government pays up Rs 590 crore in dues immediately.

This roster will be sent to Writers' Buildings soon. But more importantly, WBPDCL's decision will force state power utility West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (WBSEDCL) to prepare its load-shedding schedule because the shortage of coal supply will directly hit power generation.

The ultimatum sounded by WBPDCL has reached Writers' Buildings already, but no respite has been offered by the Mamata Banerjee government as the state finance department has thrown in the towel, saying it can't shell out anything for the moment.

Coal companies have cut down on supply over the past two months because WBPDCL, which is the major power supplier to the state utility, has been unable to pay for the coal. The supply has come down from 18 rakes a day to 10. Things have come to such a head that WBPDCL will now have to shut down the power stations. All five - Kolaghat, Bakreswar, Bandel, Santaldih and Sagardighi thermal power stations - will be shut down during various parts of the day, thus supplying less power every day.

The 'shutdown' roster will directly impact power supply and, in turn, make WBSEDCL draw up its own load-shedding schedule.

Power utilities have been going through an abject funds crunch from the beginning of the current financial year as the state government refused to revise power tariff in accordance with the coal price hike from April 1. This alone has led to a loss of Rs 500 crore for WBSEDCL.

Moreover, chief minister Mamata Banerjee - who recently gave up the power portfolio to Manish Gupta - refused to allow the power utility to apply to West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC) for the standard annual tariff revision. This would entail another Rs 2,500 crore subsidy for the power utility. But the state finance department, to which the power department has applied for the required subsidy, has already thrown in the towel, saying it doesn't even have anything to spare.

So, brace for acute power cuts like in the 1970s and early-'80s. After becoming a power surplus state by the mid-'80s, West Bengal is now walking backwards on the power front.

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