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Tackling Meghalaya’s Power Woes 

By Marbianglang Rymbai

Many have written letters to the editor including one by Salil Gewali asking, “Age of lantern or Iphone?” (The Shillong Times dated January 16, 2020). The answer to Gewali’s question is ‘frustratingly neither.’ Lanterns need kerosene, a fast depleting fossil fuel, which will not serve mankind after two decades or less. An iPhone is driven by a 3.6 volt Lithium Hydride battery which needs charging daily  if used especially by class XII Science students, on which the kind professors take appreciable pain to explain the science topics especially the topics of JEE and NEET for low income parents who could not afford tuitions. And if we know that India’s power generation is at – 4.8% down from last quarter we can never look up to Delhi at this unfortunate time.

In 1929, BC Roy tapped the Beadon falls to light up the hamlets of Shillong the then Scotland of the East. Shillong grew and so too Jowai, Nongstoin, Dawki, Tura, Nongpoh. Luckily the Colombo Project commissioned the Umtrew Dam, which recently enhanced its power generation, in 1957. In 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Umiam plant which was commissioned in 1967. To understand 1967 in electricity context, heaters, immersion rods, and fridges were not in the list. A household of 8 members was  fine with 1.5 Kw unit. Even in the age of plenty the then Assam government, to not waste water from the first power station, constructed a second stage to be finally blessed with fourth stage in 1992, to serve more people. From charcoal and coal for heating, it transcended to room heaters, ovens and cooking heaters to be followed by heavy duty fridges, microwave ovens, and even fans when the summers in Meghalaya became unbearable.

Hotels with AC’s, lifts and giant electric ovens emerged in good numbers. Hospitals with lifts, air conditioning and heavy laboratory machines are heavy electric users. Electric fabrication flourishes in our state and furniture making was pucca electric. Byrnihat steels and the nine cement plants in present East Jaintia Hills District are the main guzzlers of electricity. Fearing deficiency the then government eyed the Umngot river with heavy flow and good height. Sadly it hit a wall thanks to so called self-styled environmentalists, no different from our Assam’s Subansiri, though recently it resumed for final construction. In this respect we in Meghalaya were blessed by the farmers and paddy field owners all along Umiam river banks, who gladly took compensation to move somewhere else. Had it not been so, think where we will be right now!

Unable to convince protestors of dire need of a dam for electricity, the government chose ROR (Run of River) project at Le-shka (confluence of three rivers). Unfortunately, monsoon tricked by climate change played havoc and it became a sick wasteful unit, totally dependent on good monsoons.

With development in Meghalaya increasing by leaps and bounds and with power generation stagnant since 1992, we are entering the worst of times. From the first week of September 2018 to 23rd May 2019, Meghalaya was reeling under crisis of load shedding and unprecedented precise timings of power rationing. School children used candles, housewives trained with electric cookers cried aloud. Geysers were replaced by charcoal to flame CC, and entrepreneurs dealing with electrical goods and tools nearly lost their livelihoods with unforgiving GST. Solar panel shops had a good time with the rich.

A week before May 30, 2019 when the ICC World Cup in England started, all of a sudden hundreds of crores of rupees of debts were paid to NEEPCO. The Escrow Account was signed. The outcome was that until July 14, 2019, the closing ceremony of the ICC World Cup, Meghalaya enjoyed overflow of electricity 24 x 7. Signal strength on screen was  maximum and children enjoyed PUBG no more on hillocks but at home.

Five hours after the close, we felt a bit of load shedding in spite of the Umiam water level being at its maximum. A week ago I saw that the debt to NEEPCo had accumulated again to Rs 2800 crore. Using these data, it appears that consumer’s bills did not help much. Frightening is the fact that the supply voltage optimum at 220 volt is read by my meter at 180V. And for consumers, let them know that the less the voltage the more the units. It is an engineering fact. Geysers would take longer time to reach set degrees and fridges longer time to thaw ice. It is very sad  that in an energy crisis of this magnitude, we still light our buildings just like presidential palaces on Republic Day, blast our amplifiers to deafening levels, light the fish ponds, the gates etc. If we know that a reservoir discharging water to turbine is controlled by a computer to have zero waste (spin reserve); good sense will teach us to switch off the lights during the day time, to watch games with limited time, to have off control for electrical items etc. In times of adversity let us remember this phrase, “Sweet are the uses of adversity”. In short let us not be spendthrifts.

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