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Power utility’s rickety legs give way

- DPL fails to produce electricity for past five days because of snag and old units

Jan. 5: The state-owned Durgapur Projects Limited has not generated electricity in the past five days because of a glitch in two modern units and cost overrun-related production freeze in three old ones, pointing to the need of upgrading Bengal’s outdated power plants.

The state’s main generation utility, the West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited (WBPDCL), too, has been grappling with old age-related problems for the past few years.

DPL’s unit Nos. VI and VII, which became operational in 2008, stopped production on Tuesday after they developed snags for the third time in two months apparently because of overloading. Both units went out of order around the same time.

The two units, developed with Chinese technology, cannot be repaired locally. A team of DPL engineers that had been trained in China to handle the two units quit the company after returning from the country.

On the previous occasions when the units had developed glitches, experts from outside the company had to be hired for repairs, resulting in huge expenses and delay in restarting production.

Three other units — III, IV and V — have been lying idle for the past two months as the 50-year-old facilities guzzle fuel because of depreciation, escalating production costs.

The shelf life of production units, experts said, ranged between 30 and 40 years.

The three units generate power at a cost of Rs 5.50 a unit, while the utility sells electricity at Rs 4.19 per unit.

DPL has been buying 160MW of power daily from the West Bengal State Electricity Transmission Company Limited and central utilities to meet the demand. The peak demand during this time of the year is 220MW. The peak summer demand is 300MW.

When all five units are functioning, DPL can produce 490MW of electricity, much below the capacity of 641MW. The three units set up in 1964 have a combined capacity of producing 231MW but had generated around 80MW for years before falling into disuse.

DPL sources said the snag-hit VI and VII units would take at least a fortnight to be repaired.

“We are regulating power supply to various areas of the town (Durgapur) as it is not possible to buy the entire quantum required,” said a senior DPL official who did not wish to be named. DPL supplies electricity to Durgapur and its adjoining areas.

A power department official said a 250-MW under-construction unit was expected to begin production from the end of this year. “Till that time, the situation is unlikely to change. DPL needs Rs 2,500 crore to upgrade the three old units. It will be difficult for the state government to sanction such a huge amount immediately. We are hoping for World Bank loans,” he said.

Two more DPL units set up in 1960 were decommissioned around a decade ago because age-related problems had made production unviable. The utility will have to replace these units as they can no longer be repaired. DPL, sources, said had no such plans.

Several Durgapur residents complained of frequent power cuts in the past few days.

Private bank employee Swagata Ghosh said: “Although we do not need fans and air-conditioners at this time of the year, the area plunges into darkness because of power cuts in the evening.”

WBPDCL, Bengal’s main power-generation utility, is facing problems similar to DPL as it needs to immediately upgrade three 25-year-old units at Kolaghat. The units have a combined generation capacity of 630MW.

The state government is in talks with the World Bank for a loan of Rs 1,000 crore for this purpose.

“Even if the World Bank sanctions the loan this year, work to upgrade the Kolaghat units is unlikely to be completed before 2017,” the power department official said.

According to him, the 210-MW WBPDCL unit at Bandel was more than four decades old and also needs immediate upgrade.

Of WBPDCL’s generating stations at Kolaghat, Bandel, Santaldih, Bakreswar and Sagardighi, which have a total generation capacity of 3,860MW, only the Bakreswar plant has been upgraded. The Bakreswar plant has a generation capacity of 1,050MW.

A Nabanna source said the 450-MW Bandel plant and the 1,260-MW Kolaghat facility needed to be upgraded over the next five to seven years. For that, the government will have to arrange for Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 8,000 crore.

“We have been eyeing funds from the World Bank’s National Programme on Coal Rehabilitation for power sector reforms in India. The World Bank has offered $3.5 billion for the programme and Bengal hopes to be a principal beneficiary. DPL should get a share of the funds,” he said.