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Monday, July 2, 2012

Blackout: Weak Monsoon to Hit Power, Kill Crops

With main reservoirs filled to just 16% of capacity, rice planting is down 26% & hydel power output has fallen


The faltering monsoon has pushed the country to the brink of severe shortages of power and drinking water, apart from hurting crop planting, as India's biggest water reservoirs need to be quickly replenished to generate electricity and irrigate fields for the rest of the year. 
The situation can still be retrieved if the monsoon revives quickly, as forecast by the weather office, but the rainfall deficit has widened in the 
past week and total rains in the season are 31% below average, which has reduced rice planting by 26% compared with last year. This has also dried up many reservoirs, particularly in Maharashtra and Karnataka, where the water table has dipped sharply. 
Hydroelectricity supply usually peaks in the monsoon months of July and August, allowing coal-fired power stations to plan maintenance shutdowns during this period. But this year, the power situation has deteriorated as demand has soared beyond what utilities had anticipated while 
many plants are idling or underutilised due to scarcity of coal and gas. "It is a tricky situation. We have to balance power generation with the need to maintain water level at the reservoir," an official at the Tehri hydropower plant told ET. The reservoir currently holds 2% of its capacity, according to data from the Central Water Commission. The Bhakra dam is filled to barely 16% of capacity, down from 37% at the same time last year. The reservoir irrigates the main grain-producing regions in north India, particularly in winter, when irrigation is the sole source of water. 
India's 84 main reservoirs are filled to 16% of capacity against 27% a year ago. Four reservoirs in Maharashtra and five in Karnataka are almost dry. "Hydroelectricity generation peaks during the monsoon months. If the monsoon is further delayed, there will be a bigger power shortage and the demand will be high because the use of air conditioners will not come down unless it rains," an official at a private power company said. 
Several Parts Facing Power Shortage 
Several parts of India are already facing a severe shortage of power, with utilities cutting supplies for up to 18 hours in a day. Capacity of about 36,000 mw has been shut down, of which 7,384 mw is due to planned maintenance and the rest is 'forced outage'. 
Officials are concerned about hydroelectricity as private forecasters are predicting weak rainfall, while the reassuring official forecast has turned out to be way off the mark so far. 
"If the monsoon fails, there will be a serious problem not only for agriculture but also for power and drinking water availability," said PK Joshi, director (South Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi. The dry weather has hurt paddy sowing. It has been sown in 30.72 lakh hectares, down from 41.51 lakh hectares in the corresponding period last year, officials said. The deficit is not only in the rainfed fields of West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, but also in completely-irrigated fields in Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana, which together cover 10% of the total rice cultivation area, are waiting for the first showers of monsoon for transplantation. 
"These two states depend on canal irrigation. Nursery raising has been completed. But farmers are waiting for rains before transplanting the seedling to cut down the input cost as rice requires a lot of water during transplantation," said a Punjab agriculture department official. AK Singh, deputy directorgeneral, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, said the situation would improve if the monsoon revives. He said in Karnataka and parts of Maharashtra, the water table has fallen drastically, which would create an acute water shortage if the monsoon does not revive. 
rituraj.tiwari@timesgroup.com 


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