Power supply has been playing cat and mouse for quite sometime for the last two months. Constant blaming of nature's vagaries since ages is a reprehensible excuse. Acute shortage of man and material adds to the woes.

By Zubair Ahmed

If you ask why so many interruptions in power supply now, they blame it on the unexpected pre-monsoon showers. The rain was a relief from scarcity of water and the simmering heat. But it brought miseries of a different kind. Nights had turned nightmares without power. The authorities still feel the unexpected rain was the spoiler, the usual rhetoric though.  Its a fact reiterated time and again that rain and power cannot co-exist peacefully in our territory. Vagaries of the nature have been an reprehensible excuse since ages. But, the overall power situation in South Andaman had gone for a toss since February this year. During last two months, that too during Board exams, power played cat and mouse.

And why is it so in Port Blair too, where the vegetation is low and with so many feeders? They blame it on relay coordination. Oops.. its the new term doing rounds. Or maybe that is what we are told to believe. The supply from different small and big power plants with different DG sets and calibrations is in itself a problem, if not properly coordinated.

Speaking with Andaman Chronicle, Mr U K Paul, SE, Electricity Department said that he is expecting a consultancy team from Chennai, who will do the survey and properly set right the relay coordination. And he is hopeful that once its done, frequent tripping of Gensets will come down reducing the downtime.

The power generation scenario in South Andaman is also not very comfortable after IPP Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd shut down one more 5 MW Genset from its installed capacity of 20 MW. Its generating 10 MW power now. The other two Hired Power Plants (HPP) - Sudhir Ready and New Bharat contributes around 14 MW. In fact, New Bharat, which was almost written off was coaxed to run their gensets. IPP and HPPs seems to have turned constant pain in the neck for the Administration.

The department run power plants at Phoenix Bay and Chatham generates 15.8 MW. The newly installed 5 MW Genset is the only saving grace as of now. Any further disruption by IPP or HPPs would plunge the territory into darkness.

The Transmission and Distribution is one sector, where the Department has been drawing flak from all quarters. Even when power was surplus, the frequent interruptions due to poor maintenance and obsolete and worn out infrastructure had marred the reputation of the department. It forced the Administration to conduct an audit of power generation as well as transmission and distribution. The report saw light in November last year. Six months are over, and as mentioned in the report, most of the short-term work would be completed within two years.

Moreover, lack of inter-departmental coordination is quite obvious when it comes to proper maintenance of overhead as well as UG cables. The Electricity authorities blame the Forest Department for not giving sufficient corridor for laying power lines. In fact they rue the strenuous and tedious process of clearances.

The proposal to replace the overhead bare conductors with insulated cables in the Rural areas is yet to begin, and this rainy season too, blame would be on monsoon miseries. A 33 KV sea-link line Zebra- and Zebra-2 between Surya Chakra Power Plant at Bambooflat and Chatham Power House is completed which would help in power evacuation as well as optimal use of grid apart from the two line Panther-1 and Panther-2 connecting SPCL with Port Blair at Garacharma Sub-Station.

The ground staff of the department is seen working very hard, clearing vegetation, changing fuse, pruning branches of trees and their efforts are well appreciated by everyone, including the Administrator. But, what is seen is not what actually would have been the situation. There is acute shortage of man and material in the department. There are more than 65 posts of linemen lying vacant for decades now. There is shortage of JEs as well. The lines are now maintained by untrained mazdoors, and any accident would attract huge hue and cry. The department is run by skeletal staff and its quite visible in all site offices. There is no efforts to fill up the posts, which is one main reason in delivery of services.  Many gensets in the department-run power plants are performing sub-optimal just for want of spare parts. The list of excuses for all shortfall in service can be attributed to shortage of manpower as well as material.

The Panel - 5 which covered a large area from Hope Town to Shoal Bay and Jirkatang with a peak requirement of 3 MW has been bifurcated with installation of a new sub-station at Bambooflat. Panel 5 has been branched off into three feeders - Feeder 1 -Hope Town, Feeder 2 - Shoal Bay and Jirkatang combined. Up to Wimberly Gunj, the UG cable is connected to SPCL directly. And, the sub-station which was due for last three years have started functioning on trial basis from last Saturday. There are a few hiccups, which needs to be overcome. But, it doesn't seem to be a major solution as the feeder which caters Shoal Bay and Jirkatang - two ends - is overhead line from Bambooflat to these areas. Any disruption in Shoal Bay would still effect Jirkatang and vice-versa. Only safe zone, as informed by the concerned authorities is up to Wimberly Gunj, which has been separated from Jirkatanag and Shoal Bay line. Ideally, a sub-station anywhere close to Wimberly Gunj would be the long term solution with three different feeders catering in three different directions.

There is a mention of more sub-stations in the audit report. That seems to be the only solution in the long run. As the thumb rule, 33KV line should not go beyond 20 kms without a sub-station at every 20 kms.

"A survey needs to be conducted to assess the requirement of sub-stations throughout the territory, which needs to be taken up urgently," U K Paul said.

The 5-MW Solar Plant as of now is more a problem than a solution with huge cloud movements throughout the year. The peak generation that too upto 3 MW during sunny days is hardly for 15-30 minutes between 11.45 am to 12.15 pm. And the sudden fluctuation affects the whole grid with pressure on other power plants. Roof-top solar panels is a good solution for individual houses, but the project is taking its own sweet time.

The 30-MW proposed LNG plant is still in MOU stage, and it seems to be one solution in the field of clean power generation. But if overhauling of transmission and distribution is deferred, nothing is going to help improve the situation.

All talks of renewable energy is quite welcome and needs appreciation. But, in a territory like Andamans, the base load cannot be left to the nature to decide, and hence diesel gensets are going to stay, and a focused vision with long-term planning is required well in advance. Or else, if we keep adding one or two small gensets every now and then on piecemeal basis, we will be accumulating more problems of diverse nature. 

Disclaimer: I regret that lack of flow in this article is due to four or more power interruptions experienced in one hour.