Agartala: Thirteen years after work on it commenced, a state-owned 101 MW combined cycle plant in Tripura has started generating power at peak capacity, beating many an odd along the way.
Northeast India's third biggest gas-based power project at Monarchak, 70 km south of Tripura capital Agartala and just eight km from the Bangladesh border, is run by the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), under the union power ministry.
"The plant's 36 MW steam turbine successfully synchronised late on Thursday night. The 65 MW gas turbine has started generating its full load a few weeks back," NEEPCO general manager (Electrical) Samar Ranjan Biswas told IANS.
"The entire 101 MW electricity is being supplied to Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited (TSECL). The commercial production of electricity from this power project would start by February end," he added.
As the plant is located close to the India-Bangladesh border, it would be technically feasible to supply electricity to power-starved Bangladesh if the Indian government so wished.
The NEEPCO, a mini-ratna company, has invested Rs.1,000 crore ($148 million) to set up the project. The other two gas-based power plants in the region are ONGC's 726 MW plant at Palatana in southern Tripura, its first in the commercial sector, and the 291 MW Kathalguri plant in eastern Assam's Dibrugarh district.
The project's foundation stone was laid in March 2002 by Suresh Prabhu, the power minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government at the centre.
The environment-friendly project was originally slated to be commissioned in 2005. The union power ministry abandoned it in 2007 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.
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 and interventions by the power ministry, recently began supplying gas to the NEEPCO plant.
ONGC Executive Director and Tripura asset manager S.C. Soni told IANS that the corporation was ready to provide 0.4 million standard cubic metres 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 ONGC would suffer losses if the NEEPCO project consumes gas only intermittently.
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 plant complex. This is the biggest such 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) has been harnessed till last May.
The northeast is going to be power surplus and it is an enormous problem to transmit the excess power 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.
"The NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd. (an Indian government company) and the Bangladesh Power Development Board would soon sign an agreement to supply 100 MW of electricity to Bangladesh," Power Minister Manik Dey said.
"Transmission lines are ready to supply the power at any moment. However, the supply would start after a tariff agreement between the two companies," Dey told IANS after returning from Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
"In Dhaka, several meetings were held to finalise the power tariff. It was decided that the electricity would be supplied to Bangladesh at Rs.5.50 per unit," he added.
Dey, accompanied by officials of the external affairs ministry, power ministry, Central Electricity Authority, and NVVN, went to Dhaka last week and held a series of meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Minister of State for Power Nasrul Hamid and officials.
"During the meeting, the Bangladesh prime minister was very keen to get more power from India as the country needs 8,000 MW of electricity to meet its energy needs.
"The Tripura government is also ready to provide more power to Bangladesh if the central government has no objection," Dey added.
Bangladesh currently receives 500 MW of power from West Bengal and this will soon be doubled.