With heat out of power in India's 'coal capital', locals seek fair share of energy - Deccan Herald

With heat out of power in India’s ‘coal capital’, locals seek fair share of energy – Deccan Herald

As part of the preparations for his wedding, Vijay Rajak added a bathroom to his house so that his wife would not have to walk miles to a lake like other women from his village in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.

He connected a bathroom faucet to a tank powered by an electric water pump, but his efforts were stymied by frequent power outages in his village, which have also hit other parts of India amid a heatwave-driven power crisis over the past month.

Severe temperatures in India have driven electricity use to unprecedented levels as people crank their air conditioners, causing widespread blackouts since April, as utilities scrambled to meet demand amid dwindling coal supplies.

Read also | Climate change has increased the likelihood of a heat wave 2022 between India and Pakistan by 30 times

Locals in Jharkhand say the lack of power is unfair in their state, whose coal reserves illuminate major cities and power the country’s industries.

Rajak, 30, told Thomson Reuters Foundation By phone from Suronga village in Dhanbad district, India’s coal capital.

“We’ve been burning in this pollution for years because of the coal mine, but we haven’t gotten anything. All I wanted was for my wife to feel comfortable and be able to take a shower at home,” he said.

Jharkhand is one of the poorest states of India and also among its largest producers of coal, with 150 mines.

Coal fuels more than 70 percent of the country’s electricity generation – yet residents of this coal-rich region complain of frequent blackouts that disrupt their lives and work.

Jharkhand Electricity Board officials said the region has enough capacity to meet peak summer demand with about 2,600 megawatts from federal, private and state-owned power utilities.

They added that similar outages occurred in other parts of India last month when demand peaked.

Read also | Heat wave sings workers: “If we don’t work, what will we eat?”

KK Verma, managing director of JBVNL Electricity Distribution in Jharkhand, attributed the power outage to local conditions such as thunderstorms, old electric power lines and connectors in need of costly upgrades.

He noted that as long as Jharkhand gets its full allocation from central power companies, there is no shortage of electricity in the state.

That dependence is at the center of the state’s energy crisis, analysts said, as nationwide generation has not been able to keep pace with demand, in part due to severe coal shortages.

“Jharkhand has not added a single megawatt of power in two decades and has been buying power from thermal plants in other states that have their own priorities,” said Nevit Kumar Yadav, director of the Industrial Pollution Program at the Center for Science and Environment.

The state hopes its two planned thermal coal-fired power plants — one of which is due to start operating in the next six months — will solve its problems.

But analysts said it could be a misplaced step when the wider world moves to renewable energy.

“On a heating planet, with energy consumption rising as heat waves are sweeping more cities, Jharkhand must plan for its future now,” said researcher Yadav, noting that the state’s current plans will fuel the rising demand for coal.

Read also | India cuts June domestic coal supply targets for utilities by 11.1%

He added, “Jharkhand must change its way of thinking that it is ‘rich in coal’. The just transformation of the state must begin now.”

Diesel Dilemma

A socially just transition to a greener energy model seems out of reach in most parts of India, whose domestic economies depend on the coal industry.

People living in coal mining centers face multiple challenges, from air and water pollution to water scarcity and poor infrastructure.

In Jharkhand state, where more than 40 percent of its 33 million residents suffer, blackouts are the biggest obstacle to development, locals said.

According to a 2020 analysis by the Energy, Environment and Water Council, about 80 percent of households in the state experienced a blackout at least once a day, lasting up to eight hours — twice as long as recorded in other coal-rich nations such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

A continuous supply of electricity has been a promise in elections for years, locals said, and has been a major feature of current campaigns for village council elections, but there has been little progress on the ground.

“We are the coal capital and we have no power. It’s like having a dairy farm and you don’t even get a pint of milk,” said Sanoj Singh, a resident of Dhanbad, who blamed the power outages for the losses on his construction business. .

Generators are in great demand in Dunbad, which raises concerns about diesel consumption.

“A 5 kg generator can power an entire house that consumes 1.5 liters of diesel per hour. We know generators cause harmful emissions but how (otherwise) do people survive the heat?” asked Paras Yadav, who rents generators in Dhanbad.

push the pandemic

Home energy connections in Jharkhand have jumped to 5 million in the past three years from 3 million, thanks to state schemes to electrify rural areas and the return of hundreds of thousands of migrants from cities during the Covid-19 lockdowns, some of whom have stayed, officials said.

This has increased energy demand, even with a large portion of new consumers unable to pay the bills.

Officials said about 2.5 million electricity connections belong to the very poor in semi-urban and remote villages, where there is high demand from cottage industries, but revenue generation is largely low due to billing and payment issues.

Jharkhand – which, like other countries including rich countries, owes billions of rupees in back payments to power generation companies – has covered enough of its dues this year to maintain its supply, officials said.

Electricity connections have helped many like Robbie Mahto, 32, a farmer in East Singbhum district, about 200 kilometers north of Dhanbad.

She connected a water pump to a well to irrigate her one-acre farm two years ago, but now she has to pull buckets of water with ropes as a power outage has left the pump idle.

“We wait for electricity all day, and the moment we connect the pipe to the pump, the power is cut off,” she said.

Meanwhile, Rajak’s wife, Basanti Kumari, 25, is grateful that her husband’s village still has a better energy source than her parents’ village in the steelmaking center of Pokaro.

However, her days are busier than ever, grinding spices on a stone and filling water bowls for cooking and cleaning before walking a mile to shower, unable to use her electrical equipment when the power goes out.

“It’s so hot we can’t even skip the shower. I have to be careful with the people around us. What choice do I have?” She said.

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