Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company Limited (MSETCL) is the largest state transmission utility in the country. It has a network spanning around 50,000 ckt. km of extra high voltage (EHV) transmission lines as well as 681 EHV substations with an overall transformation capacity of 128,990 MVA. This infrastructure covers most of the interregional and intra-regional electric power transmission system in the state.
Due to the present Covid-19 situation, the utility is making efforts to provide uninterrupted supply throughout the state. So far, there have not been any major outages and tripping incidents and the transco has managed the grid very well. Further, MSETCL is providing the necessary protective gear to its manpower, while following a proactive approach towards work completion. It is also involved in breakdown maintenance, pre-monsoon maintenance testing activities, diagnostic testing work, etc. It has made ample provision for spare materials and equipment to get through emergencies.
The state transco has maintained a high transmission network availability of over 99 per cent with the deployment of state-of-the-art operations and maintenance techniques as per the global standards.
As per a recent filing with the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), MSETCL has adopted predictive and proactive maintenance strategies. With this, the suspected unhealthy equipment is removed from service before failure, thereby reducing interruptions/ occurrences and, in turn, breakdowns. To check the health of equipment, MSETCL has procured various types of state-of-the-art test and measurement equipment.
MSETCL has also adopted hotline maintenance practices through which live line maintenance of equipment is possible. It has procured hotline tools. This hotline maintenance practice improves system availability and reduces tripping/interruptions, etc. Further, it has adopted the latest technology for line patrolling and introduced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are remote-controlled drones. The use of UAVs helps achieve cost and time savings in line patrolling and maintenance thereof. MSETCL has recently procured 16 drones (one for each circle) to carry out line patrolling. By using drones, it will reduce the energy loss and downtime of the EHV electricity network.
The transco has procured two insulated-type aerial work platforms to carry out hotline maintenance works at a height of up to 23 metres. It is a mechanical device used to provide temporary access to inaccessible areas, usually at a height. Such work platforms are able to drive themselves around a site while the maintenance work is in progress.
Network development plans
MSETCL’s network development plans are governed by five-year rolling state transmission utility plans. MSETCL has 82 work-in-progress projects across seven zones, entailing the development of 19 substations and 63 transmission lines at a cumulative cost of around Rs 25.36 billion.
Of these, the maximum number of projects (22) are in the Nashik zone, followed by 13 projects each in Aurangabad and Nagpur, nine projects each in Karad, Pune and Vashi and seven projects in Amravati. Funds for these projects have been tied up with Rural Electrification Corporation Limited and Power Finance Corporation Limited. Further, MSETCL is prioritising 60 projects, for which more than 80 per cent work has been completed, so that they can be completed as early as possible.
Impact of Covid-19
As far as the short-term impact is concerned, the company’s work-in-progress projects have been stalled and are facing difficulties in the transportation of materials, equipment and tools to restart the work at sites. Further, transmission charges are getting delayed and the company is arranging short-term working capital from banks.
Since the financial health of implementing agencies is vital for MSETCL, it is taking several measures to help maintain their liquidity. Some of these are processing of outstanding bills through soft copies and waiver of inspection for non-critical supply items. Further, the company is processing all pending price variation, quantity variation and time limit extension proposals at the earliest to relieve the agencies from financial constraints. It is also making efforts to release retentions, and a bank guarantee for their earlier completed projects. MSETCL has also taken some financial measures like restricting its cash outlay from April to June 2020 by deferring/curtailing certain expenditure and loan instalments. MSETCL has taken a moratorium from financial agencies. Further, the company has approached some commercial banks for short-term and working capital loans. Meanwhile, a study group formed by MSETCL is exploring new avenues of income and financial austerity measures to cope with the financial situation.
The long-term impact of Covid on the transco would be in the form of delays in capex and subsequent capitalisation due to time and cost overruns. Supply chain restoration is expected to take its own time, resulting in delays.
Future project pipeline
According to the transco’s five-year transmission plan, it plans to build a total of 75 EHV substations, 7,887 ckt. km of EHV lines and 26,325 MVA of transformation capacity between 2020-21 and 2024-25.
For these future projects, MSETCL has undertaken a review in line with the Maharashtra government circular dated May 4, 2020. As per this, the projects will be classified as those where tendering is completed and the letter of award (LoA) is to be issued, projects under tendering, and projects yet to be tendered. “Future projects will be undertaken for relieving transmission congestion and for improvement in system reliability after making arrangement for the required capex,” noted Dinesh Waghmare, chairman and manging director, MSETCL, at a recent Power Line webinar.
MSETCL is also planning to undertake greater digitalisation and remote operation of substations. It has taken up projects on automated meter installation and the work has already been awarded at all the important interfaces in the grid. Another project that the company has taken up is asset management and installation of SCADA at some of its substations. In some areas, the company is replacing normal conductors with HTLS conductors considering the technical and cost factors. The transco has also identified the areas where it is going to use monopoles.
Key challenges and the way forward
One of the key challenges being faced by MSETCL is the lack of right-of-way permissions for the construction of transmission lines. Also, many times, there is opposition from farmers and local-level political functionaries. As the police force is engaged in Covid-19-related works, it is difficult to get police protection.
Delays in the payment of transmission charges present another challenge. MSETCL has not fully received its payment from discoms due to the closure of its bill centres and industries and commercial centres, leading to low discom revenue against expenditure. The discoms are under financial stress and this is a major challenge for MSETCL since 90-95 per cent of its revenue comes from transmission charges.
Another challenge is managing grid stability when unpredictable and unstable wind energy comes into the grid in the months of June and July. Other challenges include outage management at discom feeders, transportation of materials, stalling of work at equipment repair workshops, maintenance, spare availability, etc.
MSETCL is taking every possible step as a provider of critical infrastructure, be it manpower management, time management, or material management, to regularise operations and deal with the challenges brought on by the pandemic with enhanced preparedness.