Agartala, July 25 (IANS) Without foreign investment, the vast power potential of the northeastern region could not be leveraged, says the man heading the government-run North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO).
"Government resources are limited to commission plenty of power projects in the region to fully utilise the potential of power generation," NEEPCO Chairman-cum-Managing Director P.C. Pankaj told IANS in an interview.
"Huge foreign investment as well as a hi-tech setup is required to tap the vast resources of the northeastern states to generate electricity," he added.
He said that law and order problem, surface connectivity, delay in getting environmental clearances and the lack of good bidders are the major hurdles the authorities are facing to set up power projects in the region.
Pankaj said the government had awarded contract to some private parties to set up power projects in Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern states, but "the progress of the works is extremely slow or the fate of the planned power plants is extremely doubtful."
According to official documents, the hydro-power potential of the region is estimated at about 58,971 MW, which is almost 40 percent of the country's total hydro potential. But only about 2.1 percent (1,242 MW) has so far been harnessed till May this year.
The region is blessed with 151.68 billion cubic metre reserve of natural gas which is capable of generating 7,500 MW of electricity for 10 years and the region possessed 864.78 million tonnes of coal against 186 billion tonnes of reserves in the country. With the coal reserves in the region, about 240 MW of power can be generated for a period of 100 years.
In the eight states that comprise the region that has a population of 45.58 million, the peak hour demand of electricity is around 2,200 MW.
"NEEPCO has an installed capacity of 1,130 MW, which is 47 percent of the total installed capacity of all the power projects of the northeastern region. Within two years the NEEPCO would commission five power projects in various states with the installed capacity of 927 MW."
He said that the company, which got the 'Miniratna' status in April last year, is in the process of setting up of a 50 MW capacity solar power project in Madhya Pradesh in a joint venture and a 100 MW wind power plant in Gujarat.
NEEPCO is also planning to generate at least 1,500 MW from non-conventional sources of energy such as solar and wind in the next five years.
NEEPCO was set up in 1976 to plan, design, construct, generate, operate and maintain power stations in the northeastern region.
"The northeastern region would be a power surplus area in the country within two years and it would help to attract industries in the region," Pankaj said, adding that the region would also be able to supply power to Bangladesh if the two countries agreed.
Besides NEEPCO, several other government run organisations - National Thermal Power Cororation, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and ONGC Tripura Power Company - are commissioning thermal and hydro-power projects in the region.
He said that the per capita consumption of electricity in the northeastern region is 257 kw an hour against the national average of around 850 kw. "This is mainly due to lack of industries in the region."
Pankaj said NEEPCO has also undertaken several other power projects with the total generation capacity more than 5,000 MW in Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. "These projects would start generation of power within the next eight years."
The NEEPCO chief had come here from Shillong to supervise the 101 MW capacity Monarchak (70 km south of Tripura capital) power project in Sonamura in western Tripura, bordering Bangladesh. He met Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Power Minister Manik Dey and other officials and discussed progress of the power plant.
"The gas-based Monarchak power project would start generating electricity by December this year if the ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) ensures supply of gas to the project," Pankaj said, adding that the project cost has escalated from Rs.623 crore to Rs.960 crore due to delay in the execution of the plant.
On July 21 NEEPCO signed a Rs 500 crore deal with the Tripura government to augment the generation capacity of three power plants in Tripura by 62 MW without increasing fuel consumption.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)