Give us cheap power, Piyushji

Not only have we been told India is a surplus power nation, those on Twitter will see a tweet from power minister, Piyush Goyal, everyday on how much electricity is available on various power exchanges, and at what price. On Thursday, for instance, he tweeted “Afternoon power check: 2,377 MW available at Rs 2.17/unit for states to buy”—a sample of his tweets over the past few weeks have been reproduced here for ready reference.

If that much electricity is available at so low a price, even after you add on wheeling and other charges, the question is why this power is not available to consumers who are, for instance, paying Rs 7-8 per unit to a BSES or an NDPL in Delhi? That too will happen, Piyush Goyal will tell you, once he is is able to talk to the state governments and also pass necessary amendments in the Electricity Act which will allow for the creation of just a carriage company, which owns the power lines going into the premises of customers and charges a fee for transporting electricity—in jargon, this is called separating carriage from content. In other words, in a city like Delhi, for instance, a BSES will have a power distribution company and also one that owns the electricity lines that go into the homes of consumers. Once this is done, any citizen can buy the power Goyal tweets about, get into an agreement with BSES, to transport the power—BSES will probably have some back-to-back agreement with other transporters like Power Grid—and get the cheaper electricity. Apart from the wheeling and other charges that the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) will set, there will also be a cross-subsidy surcharge to take care of the fact that higher-paying customers will be leaving BSES—the money is to allow BSES to continue to subsidise other sets of consumers, and the idea is to keep reducing this cross-subsidy surcharge every year.

Apart from the fact that it is not clear by when Goyal will be able to get the amendments to the Electricity Act through, it is also not clear if he is giving a firm deadline to states to implement this. Because, if he isn’t, it’s almost a certainty the states will not implement it. While no one can doubt Goyal’s intentions, what’s not clear is why he needs to reinvent the wheel since most of these provisions are there in the Electricity Act of 2003 itself. Goyal’s new plans, it is true, are a step or two ahead of what the Electricity Act of 2003 had envisaged, but if even this first step has not been taken, where is the question of taking the much bigger ones?

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