Acute power crisis in Karnataka: Farmers fume at government as operational challenges worsen situation

'Natural calamity-hit' Karnataka has invoked Section 11 of the Electricity Act, which allows it to procure power from private generators.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Oct 23, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedOct 23, 2023 | 9:35 PM

The new norm will address the concerns of beneficiaries who consume very little electricity, said Minister for Power KJ George. (South First)

A failed monsoon has left Karnataka grappling with an acute power crisis that has thrown the state into disarray, with a surge in demand, coupled with operational challenges in thermal plants and accusations of mismanagement from the Opposition further worsening the situation.

The Siddaramaiah-led government is under intense scrutiny as it races to implement measures to alleviate the crisis, while political figures, including JD(S) state president and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, accusing the government of artificially creating power shortage for “commission”.

This unfolding power drama has brought to the forefront a complex interplay of factors, from heightened energy needs to political maneuvering, underscoring the urgent need for solutions to restore stability in the state’s power sector.

In terms of power procurement, the state is actively monitoring power availability on the exchange, engaging in bilateral power swaps with states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and has received approval from the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) for short-term power procurement of 1,500MW.

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‘Natural calamity’

Additionally, claiming to be hit by a natural calamity (failure of the monsoon), the Karnataka government has invoked Section 11 of the Electricity Act, which allows the state to obtain power from private generators, enabling procurement of 800MW and also barring them from supplying power to outsiders or other states until further orders.

Meanwhile, the state government has assured it will augment power production in three thermal plants by ensuring the procurement of coal despite rains in the Nagpur and Ramagundam regions, which affected coal supply.

Meanwhile, the farmers across the state are lashing out at the Congress government for not ensuring sufficient power supply amid the failure of the Southwest Monsoon.

Responding, the chief minister has assured them of at least five hours instead of seven hours of power supply daily to save the crops.

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Power situation: Demand outstrips supply

The power situation in Karnataka this year presents a significant challenge marked by a 40-50 percent surge in demand compared to the corresponding year-ago month.

According to the Department of Energy, “Several factors have contributed to this heightened demand, including poor monsoons, increased industrial and commercial activity requiring high levels of power, and a robust post-Covid economic recovery.”

“The daily power consumption has escalated from 180 million units (MUs) to a staggering 280 MUs, reflecting the substantial increase in energy needs. Daytime peak power demand has soared from 11,000 MW to a staggering 16,000 MW during the monsoon season,” the Energy Department pointed out.

And the nighttime power supply of around 10,000 MW has been adversely affected due to insufficient hydroelectricity and low wind generation.

“Even with a notable 40-50 percent increase in power generation compared to the previous year, there are instances where the demand outstrips supply, resulting in potential shortfalls of up to 40 MUs on certain days,” highlighted the Energy Department.

Over the past five years, Karnataka has witnessed a steady rise in its installed power generation capacity, reaching 4,000 MW. However, despite a total capacity of 32,000 MW, with half of it sourced from solar power, challenges arise due to its daytime generation and impact on demand management. Addressing coal-related issues, tenders have been initiated for the procurement of imported coal.

Power loss during transmission is at 13 percent, and the Gruha Jyothi scheme — free electricity up to 200 units —has contributed to a reduction in electricity theft. While industrial electricity theft remains low, officials also highlight the seasonal increase in electricity demand for watering sugarcane crops, which is expected to normalise post-harvest, underscored the officials.

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Angry farmers

Meanwhile, farmers across the state — from Belagavi to Kolar, Bidar to Chamarajanagar — are criticising the government for disrupting the power supply.

“The government is supposed to provide seven hours —three hours during the day and remaining at night — of power to farmers every day but hardly three hours of power is being supplied. It has become difficult to supply sufficient water to the sugarcane crop,” Vijayapura’s farmer Aravind Kulkarni told South First.

Meanwhile, in Kolar, farmers are striving hard to save their tomatoes and other crops due to irregular power supply. Farmers across the state expressed similar concerns.

Despite the government assuring five hours of power supply to farmers, the agrarian community continued to lash out at the Congress government.

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Thermal plants affected

The operational dynamics of thermal plants in Karnataka are confronting significant challenges primarily stemming from adverse weather conditions, affecting coal supply. It has hit power generation in four thermal plants.

Awakened by the severe power crisis, the state government has chalked out proactive measures to address the issues and ensure sustained power generation in the thermal plants in the state.

The thermal plants in Karnataka are: Ballari Thermal Power Station — three coal-fired units have the capacity to generate over 12 million units per day; Raichur Thermal Power Station — eight units and each can produce over 5.05 million units per day; and Yermarus Thermal Power Station — two units with a capacity of 800 MW each.

“All the three thermal plants are not functioning to their full capacity due to a cut in coal supply,” claimed sources South First spoke to.

“Hydro reservoirs, crucial for peaking and grid balancing, have witnessed a decline of 3,000 MU, averaging 10 MUs per day. This reduction has prompted a heightened reliance on thermal plants to meet the escalating power demand,” according to the Energy Department.

It further claimed: “The routine Annual Overhaul (AOH) for several thermal units, typically scheduled during the monsoons, has been disrupted due to the soaring demand. All units are being reinstated into operation to augment power generation and bridge the widening gap between supply and demand.”

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Quality of coal

Compounding the challenges, the quality of coal has been adversely affected by rains in the Nagpur and Ramagundam areas, leading to the Karnataka government raising the issues with the Union Coal Ministry.

“Despite these concerns, the state has actively pursued existing coal linkages, securing 15 lakh metric tonnes per month to meet daily requirements with no reported shortfall,” highlighted the Energy Department.

Officials at the Energy Department said: “To augment the coal supply, an additional two lakh metric tonnes per month have been procured from Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) through the Rail Sea Rail route in September.”

“Furthermore, a tender for the import of 2.5 lakhs metric tonnes of high-calorific-value coal has been initiated and is currently under evaluation. This imported coal is earmarked for blending, aiming to enhance the overall quality and efficiency of power generation,” added the officials.

However, Vijayapura’s Kudgi unit of the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC) is operating at full capacity and generating 2,250MW, claimed NTPC officials.

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Expanding solar capacity

Coming to power capacity augmentation, efforts are being made to operationalise the Karnataka Power Corporation (KPC) Gas plant (370MW). The government is also expanding its solar capacity under the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan-C (KUSUM -C) initiative, with 1,300MW being added in the first phase and another 1,200MW planned for the second phase.

Further, the state is increasing its solar capacity with 300MW in Pavagada and a 500MW solar park in Gulbarga. The construction of a 2,000MW pumped hydro plant in Sharavathy is underway, with efforts to obtain necessary clearances by December.

Additionally, the state is exploring private investment and joint ventures for its captive mine in Chhattisgarh and considering a buyout of stressed power plants in other states.

In terms of Power Supply/Distribution Monitoring, the government has been tasked to conduct daily monitoring at the highest levels, with the additional chief secretary, energy, and the managing director of Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) overseeing the situation.

At the district level, nodal officers from KPTCL/ESCOMs have been tasked with monitoring the power supply to substations and feeders.

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CM blames previous government

CM Siddaramaiah told reporters: “In our previous government, we focused on power generation, but unfortunately, not a single megawatt was generated during the subsequent BJP or JD(S) governments.”

“The inadequate supply to rural areas is exacerbated by disruptions in power supply to pump sets due to deficient rain. Till October, an average of 10,000 MW was consumed, but this year it has surged to 16,000 MW, creating a shortfall of about 2,000 MW. We are facing a significant power problem,” remarked Siddaramaiah.

On the allegations of farmers of not getting regular power supply, the chief minister said: “I have instructed the officials to provide uninterrupted electricity for five hours in three phases to farmers. We are also exploring the option of purchasing power from outside and emphasising co-generation of electricity from sugarcane milling.”

“The aim is to ensure farmers do not face problems due to load shedding,” added Siddaramaiah.

“However, I questioned Energy Department officials on why necessary plans for emergency situations were not in place to prevent power shortages for farmers. During the review at the home office, I highlighted districts where farmers’ protests were occurring and held officials accountable,” Siddaramaiah asserted.

He continued: “Action must be taken to supply available power scientifically in different batches. Chief Engineers must go to the field, convince farmers about the situation, and address their grievances. Sitting in the office will not solve the problem,” he said.

“Despite good rains in the previous government, there was no power generation. Now, facing deficit rainfall and drought, farmers need to be convinced of this situation. We must supply available electricity to farmers by understanding their requirements,” Siddaramaiah said, blaming the previous BJP government.

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Artificial power shortage: HDK

In a scathing attack on the Siddaramaiah government’s handling of the power crisis, former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy accused the current administration of artificially creating a shortage of electricity by significantly reducing power generation below the state’s installed capacity.

He asserted that the ongoing efforts to purchase power were driven by motives to seek “commission”, alleging mismanagement in the energy sector.

In his first presser after being appointed as the JD(S)’s Karnataka unit chief, Kumaraswamy told reporters on Saturday: “Karnataka’s total installed capacity, comprising thermal, hydro, and renewable energy sources, stands at 32,912 MW.”

“However, the combined generation from these sources is a mere 12,000 MW, well below the potential of 18,806 MW that could adequately meet the current demand,” Kumaraswamy said.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the government’s approach, Kumaraswamy emphasised the need for proactive measures to anticipate the crisis and boost power generation.

He criticised the government for what he viewed as a diversion of focus toward guarantees instead of addressing the pressing issue at hand.

Taking a swipe at the government’s motives, Kumaraswamy alleged: “Such a situation has been created for the sake of ‘commission.’ Purchasing power gives room for seeking commission. I am not saying Minister for Energy KJ George needs money, but this is what is happening in this government.”