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India May Resuscitate Disputed Enron Plant

Summer shortages give new life to India's biggest power project

4 min read

Nothing quite captures India's dilemmas like the sorry tale of the Dabhol power plant. Built by an Enron-led consortium near Mumbai (Bombay) in the 1990s, Dabhol briefly produced power for the grid, only to languish after local authorities and the multinational company came to an impasse over electricity pricing five years ago. Fast-growing but energy-poor, India desperately needed and still needs the power the plant would have provided. Yet local politicians, eager as ever to promise their constituents below-market electricity prices and, if possible, line their own pockets in the process, played on Indians' traditional deep hostility toward foreign investment.

That, anyway, is pretty much how international investors have seen the situation. But from India's perspective, to the contrary, it was a tale of how the country, yet again, had been victimized by a predatory globalizing corporation. From the outset, respected critics warned that the plant and its electricity would be too expensive, and circumstances strongly suggested that the project would not have proceeded without money's changing hands under the table [see sidebar, ]. Months after Dabhol was turned off in 2000 [see photo, ], Enron's corporate leadership in Houston stood exposed, if not as an outright criminal conspiracy, then at least as seriously short on scruples.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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