As heat knocks out power in India’s ‘coal capital’, residents seek fair energy sharing

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Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states and also one of its major coal producers, with 150 mines.

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

Jharkhand Electricity Commission officials said the region has enough power to meet peak summer demand of about 2,600 megawatts from federal, private and public power utilities.

Similar outages were recorded in other parts of India last month when demand peaked, they added.

KK Verma, managing director of Jharkhand state power distribution company, JBVNL, attributed the power cuts to local conditions such as thunderstorms and old overhead power lines and conductors that need upgrades expensive.

As long as Jharkhand gets its full allocation from central power companies, there is no power shortage in the state, he noted.

Analysts said this reliance is at the heart of the state’s power shortage, as generation nationwide has been unable to meet demand, in part due to severe coal shortages.

“Jharkhand has not added a single megawatt of electricity in two decades and is buying power from thermal power plants in other states which have their own priorities,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, program director for pollution. industry at the Center for Science and Environment.

The state hopes its two planned coal-fired power plants – one of which is expected to start operating within the next six months – will solve its problems.

But analysts said it could be a misplaced step as the world turns to renewables.

“On a warming planet, as electricity consumption soars with heat waves hitting more and more cities, Jharkhand must plan for its future now,” said researcher Yadav, noting that plans State currents will fuel the growing demand for coal.

“Jharkhand needs to change its mindset of being ‘coal-rich’. The just transition of the state needs to start now,” he added.

DIESEL DILEMMA

A socially equitable shift towards a greener energy model seems a long way off in most parts of India whose local economies rely 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, where more than 40% of its 33 million people are poor, power cuts are the biggest obstacle to development, residents said.

According to a 2020 analysis by the Energy, Environment and Water Council, about 80% of households in the state experienced at least one power outage per day, lasting up to eight hours – twice as long as those recorded in other coals. Wealthy states like Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

Uninterrupted power has been a promise in polls for years and features prominently in current campaigns for village council elections, but there has been little progress on the ground, residents said.

“We are the coal capital and we don’t have electricity. It’s like owning a dairy farm and you don’t even get half a liter of milk,” Dhanbad resident Sanoj Singh said. who blamed the power cuts on the losses of his construction company. .

Generators are in high demand in Dhanbad, fueling concerns over diesel consumption.

“A 5kg generator that can power an entire house uses 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.

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