Tamil Nadu loses 840 MW in power plant fire

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In a setback to Tamil Nadu, which is reeling from a severe power crisis, a major fire broke out at Mettur Thermal Power Station half past midnight Wednesday destroying the main, 100-metre conveyor belt carrying coal from the handling plant to bunkers and depriving the state of 840 MW. TN is facing a shortage of 3,500 to 4,500 MW.

C. Nallathambi, a 55-year-old helper who tried to put out the fire, died of burns, while another helper and an assistant executive engineer suffered injuries. They are undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Coimbatore. The blaze affected all four units, each generating 210 MW.

The authorities used coal left in bunkers till 6 pm Thursday, after which power generation came to a halt, chief engineer M. Madhu said.

Preliminary probe suggested an electrical malfunction between two junctions caused the fire, he said, adding that a team from Chennai would inspect the plant, which may take a month to restart.

Ten fire tenders from Salem, Mettur and Omalur with more than 50 personnel put out the flames around 5 am after a fight of about five hours.

Sources said the conveyor system supplied 14,000 tonnes of coal to bunkers every day and the plant generated 20 million units.

Another blip on power radar

The fire at Mettur Thermal Power Station has sent the power managers of the state scurrying to find interim solutions. The disruption has caused a shortage of 840 MW to the main grid. The districts are reeling under over 10 hours of power cut while Chennai and its suburbs face a two-hour load shedding every day.

However, Tangedco officials say they would be able to overcome the present crisis as the wind energy generation is picking up. The officials have managed to offset the outage by sourcing additional power from operating two units, which were under repair till date at North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) and Tuticorin Thermal Power Stations (TTPS) and also by purchasing power from private producers.

The power generation in 210 MW units at NCTPS and TTPS were started within hours after chief minister Jayalalithaa’s announcement in the assembly. The generation in Unit II of NCTPS was suspended on April 30 following some problems in axle shift while the unit V of TTPS was shut down only on Wednesday, a Tangedco official said, adding that both units have started generating power to its full capacity.

With the interim arrangements, the corporation would get 750 MW including 330 MW from private producers to compensate the loss of 840 MW from Mettur.

Tangedco officials are pinning their hope for an early start of the wind season. “We are consistently getting over 1,000 MW from windmills for the past couple of weeks,” the official said. Though the wind season has not begun yet, the wind accompanying the rain in the southern and western parts have come to the rescue of the power-starved state.

“The peak season for the wind power generation begins in the first or second week of June and lasts till October,” the official pointed out. “Once the wind season begins, we will get nearly 2,000 MW to 2,500 MW a day from the windmills alone,” the official said, adding that the state has installed capacity of 6,696 MW of wind energy.

At present, the state face a deficit of 3,000 – 4,000 MW as against a demand ranging from 11,500 MW to 12,500 MW while average availability of power is 8,500 MW.

CM Jayalalithaa expressed grief over the death of the conveyor belt operator and announced a solatium of Rs2 lakh to his family and a compensation of Rs25,000 to the injured.

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