Triumphing over 13 years of hurdles, northeast India’s third biggest gas based-power project in Tripura has begun generating 101 MW electricity, ensuring the region’s self-reliance in energy.
“We have finally started producing 101 MW electricity from our Monarchak combined cycle power plant. First we switched on the gas turbine (62 MW) then the steam turbine (39 MW),” NEEPCO General Manager (Electrical) Samar Ranjan Biswas proudly told IANS.
“After test generation and completing necessary formalities, commercial production of electricity from this power plant would start within a month,” Biswas said of the Rs.1,000 crore ($151 million) project of the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), located 70 km south of Tripura capital Agartala and 10 km from the Bangladesh border.
“The entire 101 MW would be given to Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited (TSECL) and would otherwise resolve the electricity crisis of the northeastern region,” Biswas added.
The project’s foundation stone was laid in March 2002 by Suresh Prabhu, the then power minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the centre.
The environment-friendly project was originally slated to be commissioned in 2005. In 2007, the union power ministry abandoned it for a variety of reasons but work resumed in 2010 thanks to the Tripura government’s pressure.
“Conceived in 2000 with an initial installed capacity of 500 MW, the power plant’s capacity was reduced to 280 MW in 2003-04 after ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) reduced its gas allocation by half,” Biswas said.
“The ONGC further slashed the gas allocation in 2008, forcing NEEPCO to further scale down the plant’s installed capacity to 101 MW. ONGC’s dilly-dallying in supplying gas on a regular basis caused the abnormal delay in commissioning the project,” said Biswas of the project he heads.
The Monarchak project is the third biggest gas-based power plant in the northeast region after the ONGC’s 726 MW plant at Palatana in southern Tripura, the company’s first in the commercial sector, and the 291 MW Kathalguri in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh district.
An ONGC official said technical problems and NEEPCO’s interruptions in taking gas were to blame for the delay.
Biswas said the ONGC, after a series of parleys, recently began supplying gas to the NEEPCO power plant.
ONGC Executive Director and Tripura asset manager S.C. Soni said the corporation was ready to provide 0.4 million standard cubic metre per day (MSCMPD) gas to NEEPCO “but they did not assure us the gas would be taken uninterruptedly”.
Soni pointed out there would be a technical glitch in the supply and the ONGC would suffer losses if the NEEPCO project intermittently consumes gas.
Designed by the US General Electric Company, the plant’s turbines have been supplied by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited.
NEEPCO has also installed a five-MW capacity solar power plant at a cost of Rs 50 crore within the Monarchak power plant complex. This is the biggest solar power unit in the northeastern region, comprising eight states including Sikkim.
Credited with installation of several power projects in the northeast, NEEPCO, headquartered in Meghalaya capital Shillong, also plans to generate at least 1,500 MW from solar and wind energy in the next five years.
According to union power ministry documents, the hydro-power potential of the northeastern region is estimated at 58,971 MW, which is almost 40 percent of the country’s potential. However, only about 2.1 percent (1,242 MW) had been harnessed till last May.
The northeast is going to be power surplus and it was an enormous problem to transmit the excess power from the region to the country’s power-starved regions. The eight northeastern states’ off-peak and peak demand on an average is 1,500 MW to 2,500 MW against the current installed capacity of 4,730 MW. This means that most of the plants are working under-capacity.
Meanwhile, Tripura will soon begin supplying 100 MW of power to Bangladesh. The transmission lines have been commissioned on both sides of the border and supplies will begin after a power purchase agreement has been signed.
With the commissioning of the Monarchak plant, NEEPCO’s share of installed capacity in the region would be more than 42 percent.
Sujit Chakraborty / IANS