Aggressively setting up solar power systems in Delhi can overcome the power deficit to a large degree
It's that bad news we all dread to hear and it's happened once again. Barely two months back when the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) had increased the power tariff by 1.5-3%, another hike of 1.5% has now been given the green signal. While the state regulator has fixed 4.5% fuel surcharge for BSES Yamuna Power Ltd and BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd, 3% surcharge has been approved for Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd customers, shooting up the power bills by at least Rs 90.
The reason quoted by the distribution companies to justify the inflation is the rising fuel cost. "Since coal is getting costlier, power generation is getting costlier. Hence, more money has to be paid to buy this expensive electricity". Sadly, this has now become the default justification for tariff hikes as more than 75% of Delhi's electricity comes from coal-based thermal power plants.
In 2012, 32 major thermal power plants, including five major ones that supply power to Delhi, faced a severe shortage of coal. This was caused by the rising cost of coal, both in the domestic and international markets, and it led to a nationwide power deficit of 8,000MW. Out of this, the national capital's share was 300MW. So to prevent long power cuts (this summer's projected shortfall is 400MW in Delhi) and feed the starving power plants, the government is working on a proposal to import more coal and it hopes to pass on this higher costs (read another tariff hike) to consumers. But wait a minute. Why should you and I, as Delhiites, become the victims of our government's inefficient planning? Why are we being forced to bear the burden of expensive and truant electricity when we could have got better service at a lower rate?
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In 2012, the Delhi regulatory commission was instructed by law to setup renewable power projects of 120MW. Considering that the city receives 350 days of sunlight that could be harnessed as solar energy, the target was very much achievable. But the state failed to do its bit. Had it completed its target of last year, we could have overcome the power deficit to some degree in this year. Moreover, switching to renewable energy would have freed us, as consumers, from the vicious cycle of rising coal prices and rising power tariffs.
Just as Air Marshal (retd) Minhi Bawa of Safdarjung Enclave in Delhi has done. Two years back, Bawa installed a solar heater on his rooftop for Rs 45,000. Today, he gets 500 litres of hot water in a single day without paying a single penny. During peak hours, when power discoms have to shell out Rs 12 for coal-based electricity, solar energy for the same period can be bought at Rs 7. Today, using solar energy is cheaper than burning diesel in power generators. Still, we are being forced to accept DERC's tariff hikes, despite knowing that it could have been avoided had the state regulator been pro-active and shown a firm will to fulfill its clean energy targets.
Renewable energy, we all know, is the future as coal is not going to last forever. And the faster we burn this fossil fuel, the higher would be the price to use it. Unfortunately, the DERC is yet to realize this fact as it continues to rely heavily on coal-based electricity. Worse, utility companies are now brainstorming on how to carry out the load-shedding when the summer peaks. So, like every previous summer, this year too, we'll all be paying double money for a bad service.
Neha Khator is an activist with Greenpeace India and writes about clean energy.