Deficit monsoon raises spectre of power crisis, drought in Kerala

A 44 per cent reduced rainfall has resulted in record low levels of water in dams across the state

Representative image of southwest monsoon in Kerala (photo: IANS)
Representative image of southwest monsoon in Kerala (photo: IANS)

Ashlin Mathew

As a result of deficit monsoon this year and low winter rainfall last year, Kerala is staring at the twin spectres of a power crisis and drought. At the root of the problem lies a deficit southwest monsoon, which has reportedly brought 44 per cent reduced rainfall, which in turn has resulted in record low levels of water in dams across the state.

The volume of water stored across dams in the state stands at 1,366.56 million cubic metre (mcm) as of August 17, while on the same date last year, the volume was 2,942.36 mcm, a reduction of 1,575 mcm.

In fact, water had overflowed from Kakki, Idukki, Idamalayar and Banasurasagar dams in August 2022, but this year, the water is far below required levels. Since these four dams also provide water for electricity generation in the state, their falling water levels has also raised the possibility of a power crisis.

In Kakki dam, the water level stands at 160.220 mcm compared to 358.36 mcm on August 17 last year. In Idukki, the water level is at 459.318 mcm, as against 1176.459 mcm last year. In Idamalayar, it is at 423.8 mcm, down from 856.28 mcm last year. In Banasurasagar, the water level is currently at 123.55 mcm, while it was 186.55 mcm this time last year.

A breakup of rainfall patterns shows that in Idukki, there was 775.4 mm rainfall between 1 June and 16 August this year, where the seasonal normal is 1,956.5 mm. This is a deficiency of 60 per cent. Across districts in Kerala, the average rainfall has been recorded at 877.2 mm this year, whereas the normal is 1,572.1 mm. This translates to a 44 per cent deficiency.

C3S multi-system seasonal forecast of Asia (photo: Kerala State Government)
C3S multi-system seasonal forecast of Asia (photo: Kerala State Government)

The alarming situation has led Kerala electricity minister K. Krishnankutty to acknowledge that the state is already reeling under a severe power shortage. This, combined with rising power consumption as a result of scanty rainfall, has pushed the state to the brink of a crisis. The minister said the government, will decide on 21 August whether to opt for power cuts or a hike in power tariffs to manage the situation.

The daily average consumption of electricity for August so far has been 82.42 million units. On 11 August, Kerala recorded the highest usage with an average consumption of 85.9 million units. Meanwhile, the average consumption for August 2022 was 71.25 million units. In March 2022, the daily average consumption was 87.4 million units.

An in-depth look

Kerala’s ground water levels are replenished by three cycles of rainfall. While the state should receive at least 21 per cent of its cyclical rainfall from the north-east monsoon in winter, 9 per cent comes from summer rains and 70 per cent from the south-west monsoon.

However, a shortage in the northeast rainfall last year caused a 24 per cent deficiency, with Thrissur reporting the highest deficiency at 59 per cent and Kannur at 55 per cent. Ernakulam saw a deficiency of 29 per cent. This was a result of the cyclonic movement over the southeast Arabian Sea, east central Bay of Bengal and north Andaman Sea. Rainfall was deficient during January-February too, with only Kozhikode receiving excess rainfall of 112 per cent, while the average rainfall deficiency in the state was 28 per cent.

IMD shows deficient rainfall in all the parts of Kerala (photo: Kerala State Government)
IMD shows deficient rainfall in all the parts of Kerala (photo: Kerala State Government)

This was then followed by largely deficient summer rainfall (pre-monsoon showers) from 1 March to 15 May. The 16 per cent shortage in overall rainfall during this period meant that the state received only 19 cm of rainfall against a normal of 22.7 cm. Hilly areas of Kannur already experienced severe drought-like situation in April, with agricultural crops drying up.

This year, the southwest monsoon has arrived nearly a week after its ‘normal’ onset date of 1 June. The normal average rainfall during June is 577.8 mm, but the actual rainfall this year was only 203 mm. The situation improved in July with a deficit of 9 per cent, but between 1 and 15 August, Kerala received only 25.1 mm of rain instead of the expected 254.6 mm, a deficit of 90 per cent. In previous years, heavy rainfall would hit the state by the first week of August.

The last time Kerala witnessed a deficient monsoon was in 2016. Not only has the deficit raised the prospect of a drought, but Kerala will also have to import electricity.

The total annual energy consumption as per the Kerala State Load Despatch Centre for 2021-22 is 26,838 million units (mu), with consumption rising by 5-7 per cent each year. Normally, the state generates 7,500 mu from hydel power, but this year, Kerala is unlikely to produce less than 5,000 mu if the current trend of falling water levels holds.

In May, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had predicted an 'above-normal' southwest monsoon in the state ahead of the four-month season. The IMD bulletin had stated, “In June, below normal monthly rainfall is expected over most parts of the country except some areas of south peninsular India, northwest India, extreme north India and some isolated pockets of northeast India, where above normal rainfall is expected.”

Unless it rains in September, the situation in Kerala will only worsen. But, global monsoon models have predicted below normal rainfall in Kerala. Both the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the North American Multi Model Ensemble (NMME) have predicted a below normal rainfall levels in September.

Why is the power tariff being hiked?

According to sources, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has to spend Rs 8-10 crore every day to meet the excess power demand. To make matters worse, in May, the Kerala State Electricity Regulatory Commission (KSERC) had cancelled KSEB's long-term power purchase agreements that sought to purchase power from three private companies for 25 years. The decision has aggravated the power crisis for KSEB.

According to reports, in 2016, KSEB had entered into an agreement with four private companies to purchase power at Rs 4.29 per unit. As per the agreement, the state could purchase 465 MW of power from these companies over a period of 25 years, including 115 MW from Jhabua Power Ltd, 150 MW from Jindal Power Ltd, 100 MW from Jhabua Power Ltd and 100 MW from Jindal India Thermal Power Ltd. As per the long-term agreement, power would have been available within 24 hours at the same rate from 2016 for the next 25 years.

However, with the agreement having been cancelled in the name of procedural lapses, the state will have to buy power from alternative sources at a rate of Rs 10 per unit, sources say.

The LDF government has maintained that the deals were illegal and expressed an intent to initiate a vigilance probe against Aryadan Mohammad, power minister in the late Oommen Chandy's cabinet.

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