Once again, the Kerala State Electricity Board is knocking at the doors of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests with the hope that the Athirapilly hydel power project will get the go-ahead. The latest move comes after the High Level Working Group (HLWG) report on Western Ghats suggested that the project shall be "revaluated in terms of the generation of energy and if the plant load factor expected in the project makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species."
The Working Group,led by K. Kasturirangan, was constituted to advise the Government on the recommendations of an earlier report by the eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP)
The electricity board has also written to the State government explaining its position following the panel report and demanding clearance for the project.
The Gadgil panel had earlier said no to the board's proposal for a hydro electric dam across Chalakudi River for generating 163 MW of power. Several environment groups had opposed it fearing that it would ravage the fragile ecology of the region. However, major political parties, including the CPI (M) and the Congress, pitched for it. The statement of former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh that the project would be a perfect recipe for ecological disaster had also triggered a war of words with then State Power Minister A.K. Balan crossing swords with the Union Minister.
KSEB chairman M. Sivasankaran said the board has written to the State government and the Ministry explaining its position following the HLWG report. The board had also provided data on availability of water in the system as recorded by the Central Water Commission, following Kasturirangan panel's observations, he said.
Sunita Narain, a member of the high level working group, said here on Wednesday the board could not provide data on ecological flow of river. She had also highlighted the panels concern on water flow from catchments to the river stream due to extreme climate events, including the "unpredictable monsoon rains."
However, Annamma John, (Member Generation) of the KSEB, said that on an average, 360 million units of power could be produced annually. Production could even go up to 604 million units. In the worst scenario, nearly 196 million units of power could be generated. Athirapilly project would become feasible if the annual average power production was taken into account, Ms. John said.
The board considered water availability figures of 30 years between 1972 and 2002. Later the decennial data from 2002 to 2012 was also considered. While planning the project, extreme weather conditions, as prevailed during the past season, were also anticipated. Such weather variations can recur at intervals in the coming years too, she said.
Precise data on the quantum of water available for power generation and water required for generating every unit of power is also available. The data generated by board was scrutinised and confirmed by the Central Water Commission, which was also maintaining a gauging station downstream Athirapilly, said Ms. John.
Ms. John also denied the observation of Ms. Narain that data on ecological flow was not provided. The board supplied all data required by the panel member. The group's chairman Kasturirangan had even acknowledged that, she said.