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Bharuch floods: Narmada waters could have been put to 'better use', generating Rs 85 crore

By Himanshu Thakkar*

One of the ways the Narmada waters in the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) could have been put to productive use, instead of draining them from the spillways, leading to major floods in Bharuch between August 29 and September 2, would have been by generating power by operating the 1200 MW River Bed Power House (RBPH) and 250 MW Canal Head Power House (CHPH) at full capacity over a longer period.
A perusal of the Narmada Control Authority’s (NCA’s) Daily Status Reports and Daily Plant Report of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) Power Houses tells us that till August 25, RBPH was generating zero power since July 14 and even CHPH generated no power even on August 25, and just 0.509 MU (Million Units), operating just one of the five 50 MW units for 11 out of 24 hours on August 26.
It was only by September 3 that both RBPH and CHPH started operating at full capacity. If SSD operators had started generating full power even from August 21 (in consultation with NCA and beneficiary states of MP and Maharashtra, they would not have said no to additional power that is rightfully theirs), SSP could have generated additional 283.85 MU in additional ten days, which would have meant additional value generation of Rs 85 crore, assuming price of Rs 3 per unit of power.
But for some strange, unknown reasons, water was not used productively, which would have also helped a step towards avoiding flood disaster in Bharuch.
Why did the SSP power units take over seven days to reach full load? The first unit of RBPH was started at 14.45 hours on August 26, as per NCA daily updates dated Aug 27, 2020. Thereafter slowly other units were started. All six RBPH units started operating for the first time at 0120 hrs on August 30, as per the power station NCA update of Aug 31, 2020.
However, the units were still not operating at full load. The units were operating around 160 MW load against its 200 MW capacity on August 30, August 31, September 1 (164 MW), September 2 (196 MW). It was only on September 4 when all six RBPH units were for the first time operating at or above 200 MW rated capacity, when the RBPH generation reached 28.538 MU as per NCA power plant update dates September 5, 2020.
On Sept 4, 2020, the RBPH discharge also reached a peak of 1,199 cumecs as reported by NCA Daily Status report of September 5, 2020. CHPH power generation reached a peak of 3.902 MU on September 1, and its discharge of 437.8 cumecs was also maximum during that period.
The big mystery is: Why did SSP power units take so many hours and days to reach peak load? The four retired officials’ note (published by Counterview), in their reply to my view (see Counterview), state: "In fact, Operation of River Bed Power House was started on August 26, 2020 and gradually stepped up to operation of all 6 turbines at I0.00 hours on August 30, 2020."
This is clearly wrong in many details, as usual, but agrees that RBPH took five days to start all six units (full load is a different matter). It should have taken no longer than an hour to ramp up all the units of SSP power houses. The delay of so many days not only meant lower power generation, but also additional floods in downstream areas.
Let us take note of the celebrated event of April 5, 2020 when this prowess of quick ramping down and up of hydropower projects was successfully showcased at national level.
On April 5, 2020, when following the Prime Minister's call for 9 minutes lights off at 9 pm, the sudden drop in power demand was 31,089 MW, and that ramping down of generation within minutes could be possible due to hydropower projects, as media reported quoting Union Power Minister, among others.
The demand then jumped by 28,001 MW in the next one hour. Both this ramping down and up, within minutes was possibly due to hydropower projects.
So the mystery of slow ramping of SSP power units remains unresolved.
--
*South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), Delhi

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