It took longer than the stipulated 3-1/2 years for completion

The 600-MW Mettur thermal power plant, which had gone kaput on March 10 with a hydrogen leak from its generator, is now back in operation — good news for the people of Tamil Nadu as it would make summer more bearable. The ruling AIADMK party is bound to be rueing the loss of the plant during the crucial election period, though.

A 600-MW thermal plant, running to full capacity, can produce 1.5 crore units of electricity, enough to power 30 lakh households.

Produces 6 million units

On Wednesday, the plant, supplied by Dongfang of China, operated at a level of 380 MW and produced 6 million units.

The ruling party would have missed the generation from this plant in the last 45-odd days, given that the major issue against the State Government is, by far, power. The one-year-old plant going into disrepair is also bound to raise questions about sourcing critical equipment from the Chinese, say experts in the power industry.

In January 2008, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board gave a ₹3,100-crore contract to Chennai-based BGR Energy to build for it a 600-MW thermal power plant at Mettur in the State.

The plant took longer than the three years and three months it was supposed to be completed in, and for some time there was a lively blame-game between BGR and TNEB on who was responsible. The plant was finally declared commissioned in October 2012, but due to teething problems, which took some more time to stabilise to full capacity power generation.

Develops gas leak

But in early March, the plant developed a ‘hydrogen leak’ from the generator. Engineers have been trying to put it back in order - difficult task, they say, as the machine would have to be practically dismantled and put together back again.

It is not clear as to why the generation of the one-year-old plant could not be repaired earlier. Nor is it clear as to whose fault caused the snag - operator’s (TNEB’s subsidiary, Tangedco), or the equipment supplier’s (Dongfang). But one industry expert, who did not wish to be named, said Mettur’s experience is bound to raise once again the question of the suitability of Chinese power equipment to India.

In the past, several Chinese plants have gone kaput, such as Sagardighi in West Bengal (again of Dongfang make) and Balco’s. Business Line had earlier reported that the Aditya Birla group company, Hindalco, while placing an order on BHEL, had stipulated that no component shall be bought from the Chinese.

Kudankulam

To make matters worse for Tamil Nadu, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is yet to give the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project permission to raise the operating capacity to 90 per cent from the current 75 per cent. The permission was expected in early April.

(This article was published on May 1, 2014)
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