To modernise power infrastructure, Assam in talks with AIIB for ₹3,200-crore loan

Pratim Ranjan Bose Guwahati. November 3 | Updated on November 03, 2019

The State has an archaic distribution system that still uses bamboo poles

The Assam government is negotiating a ₹3,200-crore loan from Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to revamp its archaic electricity distribution system, which is responsible for poor quality of supply and high peak shortage.

A decision in this regard is expected by December.

Peak shortage

As in the first half of this fiscal, the North-East reported highest peak shortage of 4.9 per cent, as against a national average of 0.7 per cent. The reasons lie mostly in Assam — the largest State in the region.

Years of inaction has left the State with an archaic distribution system marked that still uses bamboo poles, inadequate number of sub-stations, leading to frequent power cuts and voltage fluctuations.

High costs

Add to this, the high average cost (₹5.23/unit) of power purchased by Assam Power Distribution Company (APDCL), high cost of employees and the high average tariff (₹7.05/unit) — customer satisfaction is low.

Until recently, no one cared about customer satisfaction either. APDCL has just started keeping daily record of interruptions. Data analysis and remedial action will take time.

“The distribution sector has too many problems. The State has high forest cover (34 per cent). In summer, the trees grow fast, snapping the lines. Then, there are these bamboo poles which give way to strong wind,” said an official.

The existence of bamboo poles was unearthed two years ago while State authorities were probing the cause of electrocution deaths. Initial estimates suggested existence of 20,000 such poles.

Bamboo still in use

But, as APDCL went on replacing them, the number count increased to 60,000. “Who knows how many more such poles are there?” the official said.

A bigger issue, however, is the capacity inadequacy.

APDCL witnessed 26 per cent (12 lakh) rise in subscriber base to 58 lakh, during the recent rural electrification drive.

However, the State barely has 33KV/11KV 441 substations, at a lopsided LT/HT (high tension) ratio of 2.47:1. Ideally, the ratio should be 1:1. It means each substation is catering to a wider geography than expected. And, as power travels longer from the substations, the aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses increase.

Recent trends show AT&C losses increased to 24 per cent as against previous averages of 15 per cent. For the customer, it means, higher tariff and poor supply quality.

To solve the problem, APDCL recently approached the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) for a ₹3,200 crore finance to add 196 substations and other infrastructure.

“AIIB is evaluating the proposal. We are expecting a positive response in next two months,” a source said.

Published on November 03, 2019

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