Triumph and tribulation are integral parts of our lives. But the Indian Power Sector has lately witnessed too much of the latter. On the one hand there is the Centre's growing thrust on pushing the power generation by a monumental 76,000 MW, while on the other hand, a lot of challenges like fuel shortages, increasing coal prices, land acquisition and environmental clearances, need to be tackled deftly. Although these deterrents have made many to sit up and take notice, they haven't dampened the spirits of private power generators, who are quite optimistic that their efforts and investments will bear fruit. And as the country inches forward, these stakeholders are rubbing their hands in anticipation and looking forward to a level playing field.
Well, the statistics available are quite telling; the country's current installed capacity stands at 2,11,766.22 MW, of which, the Thermal Sector enjoys a lion's share of 1,41,713.68 MW. Meanwhile, Hydro, Nuclear and Non-Renewable segments command 39,416.40 MW, 4,780 MW and 25,856.14 MW respectively. Peeping into the Thermal segment, we learn that coal-run plants are taking the lead with 1,21,610.88 MW, followed by gas-based units at 18,903.05 MW, and oil-driven units at 1,199.75 MW.
What makes these stats more interesting is the fact that the cumulative share of the Private sector is 62,469.24 MW – around 30%. And industry experts claim that this will leapfrog to 50% in the 12th Five Year Plan. Well, it might not be an understatement that in the coming years, Private players might outpace their Public counterparts. Notably, in the Working Group Report, the Planning Commission has envisaged an investment of Rs.14 lakhcr in order to meet the country's energy demands. Needless to say, a substantial chunk of this money will come from the private companies.
Meanwhile, the Public Sector companies, NTPC, NHPC and Nuclear Power, constitute 30% (62,826.63 MW) of the total installed capacity of 2,10,951.72 MW as on December 2012. Today, NTPC with an installed capacity of 41,184 MW, is the largest power generation company with diversified portfolios in Hydro power, coal mining, power generation equipment, power trading and distribution. It has plans to spend Rs.20,000cr on ongoing and new projects, including Rs.5,113cr for renovation and modernization.
Till now, NTPC has fared well in meeting various technical challenges through various innovative measures and plans to become 1,28,000 MW plus company by 2032. Matching global standards with an increasing presence in the power value chain, NTPC is well on its way to become an Integrated Power Major.
All that is needed is a sound policy and framework by the Centre to tackle some debilitating factors, which have left a slew of power projects in the lurch. Back in March, a rather disturbing news doing the rounds was that power projects worth Rs.5.39 lakh-cr were in doldrums due to various reasons such as fuel shortages, land acquisition, environmental clearances and lack of funds. Crucially, environmental nods and paucity of fuel were the main reasons behind these delays.
Dwindling Fuel Supplies, Environmental Deadlocks
Mr. Sardana laments, "Power sector is facing several challenges today. The key amongst them is shortage of fuel. Despite huge coal reserves in India, the domestic power sector is facing coal shortages and has resorted to imports to meet its requirements. This shortage may result in increasing non-utilisation of assets that are already built and this would also distract new capacity additions thereby targets not being reached. At the same time, recent policy changes in Indonesia and Australia have significantly escalated the price of imported coal. Since Independent Power Producers (IPPs) import coal from Indonesia and Australia, the sudden spike in price has caused imported coal-based power projects to become economically unviable. Another major challenge to the sector is the shortage of natural gas in India. This shortage has stranded gas-based power projects with a combined capacity of around 18,903.5 MW, accounting for only 9.13% of the total generation capacity."
He continues, "With production from Coal India being flat over the last 5-7 years, inland plants in the sector had to resort to imports to meet its requirements. The scale of imports (more than 100 MT in 2012) is instrumental in driving up coal prices in Australia and Indonesia, the principal sources of imported coal for India. Indonesia's move to link coal prices to international benchmark has made coal 150% more expensive. As a consequence a number of projects based on imported coal that had signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) with state utilities have become unviable as the PPAs does not allow these increased costs to be passed onto the consumer. Despite these challenges, the private sector has been persistently working towards contributing to the growth of the sector. Ensuring stable, dependable and cost-effective fuel supply for power generation should be on high priority for the Government at this stage."
Echoes Mr. Pattabhiraman, "The issues with coal allotment dating right back to 1993 will only add to the hassles being faced by the power sector and further delay in capacity addition. Also, if one goes by the stranded capacity in the coal-fired plants due to lack of coal & gas availability, the dip in capacity addition in the XIIth Five Year Plan is a whopping 78,000 MW between these sources. There doesn't seem to be any immediate action plan or hope to set this anamoly right especially with the bugle of general elections already getting sounded. The political class will now be huddled together to pull each other down with scams, issues and bungling of each other than find time to look at macro picture."
Even the Hydro sector has had its share of distress and discontent. It's a dichotomy of sorts that despite harbouring tremendous hydel potential, India has been over reliant on Thermal power. Analysts inform that out of the total water reserves available, we are exploiting only a negligible 20-25% for power generation. And given the topsy-turvy trajectory of coal supplies, which have rendered many Thermal plants under-utilised, the need to infuse impetus in the Hydro Sector is paramount. Unfortunately, pussyfooting by the polity in awarding green nods has left many a Hydro developer irked.
Jaiprakash Associates, which is a major name in this segment, endorses the view. Mr. Kadkade bemoans, "Hydro power projects allotted in Arunachal Pradesh, which is a major potential of hydro power generation, have not progressed despite making DPRs (detailed project reports) because of non-availability of land, and resettlement and rehabilitation issues. Talking of resettlement and rehabilitation, this is the first item which the state concerned has to undertake to do at the fastest pace. This has not happened till now. It is also necessary for the state to arrange for access roads to the site and basic infrastructure like water supply, electricity from its grid. More than 3 years have passed and despite the best attempts including payment of upfront money to the state, the issues of land acquisition, resettlement & rehabilitation, supply of water and electricity, making necessary access roads still remain to be done. Unless these are taken care of, no progress can be achieved."
"Investment in Hydro Sector," he continues, "is provided by banks and financial institutions, but it is derailed because of non-response for the activities related to issues like land acquisition, RR, access roads, and power supply from grid. Delay in execution entails higher interest burden requiring increase in terminal rate to nullify the cost."
How to Win Investors' Trust?
As Mr. Pattabhiraman notes, "The energy sector is facing such huge hurdles and they are so intricately intertwined that unless a macro view is taken, the probability of emerging with a solution seems remote. Another issue that calls for urgent attention is the need to look at the three portfolios: generation, transmission and distribution seamless and as part of an integrated energy development program and not as stand-alone functions of an energy policy. The other extremely worrying aspect is the lack of a pronouncement of National Energy Security Policy. This policy needs to pan across fuel types, policy issues, foreign policy, investment rules & land acquisition among other factors being taken into cognizance and debated."
Buttressing the argument, Mr. Saradna opines, "There is a need to improve fuel transport infrastructure which includes the need to stress on the development of feeder lines, connecting roads from mines to rail heads/highways, which still remains a major obstacle in the way of smooth coal transportation infrastructure. There is also urgent need for the Railways to gear up for increasing rail rakes in the wake of anticipated increases in the future demands of coal. The need of the hour is to immediately evolve a long-term National Energy Security Policy. In its Energy Security Policy, the Centre must consider mediating and help resolve the pending fuel supply agreements for long-term fuel linkages in India and abroad."
As if fuel supply woes weren't enough, the Power Sector is under the spell of heavy power losses amounting to Rs.1.9 trillion by 2011-12 due to lacunae in the transmission and distribution network being operated at state utilities—Discoms end. Industry bigwigs urge the need to plug the loopholes at this front too.
Mr. Sardana observes, "Power distribution still remains a segment that needs significant reform-intervention and a combination of tariff increases, competition & open access and enforcement of the 'obligation to service' going forward. The distribution segment caters to 200 million consumers with a connected load of 400 GW, comprising one of the largest customer bases in the world. However, high financial losses and the debt burdens of the distribution companies are hampering not just the electricity distribution but is almost becoming a question mark for generation capacity addition in India."
"The previous year," he elaborates, "saw a change of guard at Ministry of Power and we have seen hectic activity in the past few months. Recently, announced Budget by the Central Government for the financial year 2013-14 approved a scheme for the financial restructuring of discoms to restore the health of the power sector. The state governments have been asked to prepare the financial restructuring plans which can be utilized at the earliest for the best advantage to the discoms. It is hoped that the discoms which happen to be the weakest link in the entire value chain will be restructured to strengthen the framework of the sector. Steps taken on Fuel price pooling which is a short-term solution only, would provide some respite to new capacity, which otherwise has the risk of being stranded. Also the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC)'s order in April 2013, which called for a variable "compensatory tariff" till the fuel situation stabilizes for imported coal based plants, is a progressive step for the sector. This decision of the regulator was welcomed by the industry as many imported coal based projects were either stalled or were running losses due to high imported fuel costs. Similar policy framework is needed to address various issues plaguing the sector for quick resolution."
A Ray of Hope
Moving on to gas allocations, recently a group of power makers moved the Petroleum Ministry and the Planning Commission and pointed out that 15,000 MW of gas-based plants were getting gas supplies from domestic fields for less than 10% of their operating capacity, making their own operations unsustainable. They made two notable suggestions; averaging the price of domestic gas and imported gas, and prioritizing the Fertiliser and Power Sectors over others with regards to gas supply.
Mr. Kadkade as well as others in the Power Sector are in favour of this proposition. He notes, "Prioritizing power sector and averaging imported gas prices with domestic gas prices need to be implemented so that the mechanism of arriving at sale price of power can be perfected." Well, the latest turn of events at the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas suggest that there's soon going to be a decision in this regard too.
And as this report reaches its penultimate stage, there's a whiff of fresh air emanating from the Shram Shakti Bhawan heralding a new dawn for the Hydro Power developers. Driven by the noble intent of clearing impediments, a panel, under the Power Minister Mr. Jyotiraditya Scindia's aegis, has eased the green norms and devised financial incentives for this sector. This would instill new life into 136 private hydel projects including those by companies aggregating a capacity of 40,000 MW, enough to light up 8-10 cities of Delhi's size.
Notably, one of the biggest deterrents in setting up a hydel plant is the construction cost which can reach gigantic proportions. As Mr Kadkade rightly points out, "It is easier to construct a thermal power station because most of the work including civil works is less than half of what is required for the work of hydro power station."
Taking cognizance of this reality, the panel has recommended excise duty exemption for cement, steel, and equipment. Moreover, it has also suggested a waiver of service tax on construction activities. Apart from this, a spate of reforms has been devised to extricate the Hydro Sector from the current quagmire. Other recommendations include allowing trading of power from Hydro projects to increase their viability, and delinking approval of terms of reference (TOR). All Hydro projects could be given renewable status.
Cynics have labeled these project clearances as political gimmicks. Whatever it is, it's a harbinger of hope for the power fraternity which is more than eager to prove its prowess. It is expected that by the end of this year, a majority of projects would have obtained clearances. Clearly, opportunities abound in the sector and in the coming years, India is likely to witness the realization of its dream - 'Power for All'!
Some Quick Bytes
New Power Projects Cleared
GVK Commissions Power Project
Green Clearance Norms for Hydro Projects Eased
ADB fires $30-mn Booster in Hydro Sector
JSPL Plans Rs.8,500cr Power Plant in Jharkhand
Gati Infra Invests Rs.1150cr in Hydel Projects
Athena Chhattisgarh project starts countdown to commissioning
Govt readies seven coal blocks for auctioning
In fact, explored blocks generate more revenues and attract more bidders and the feasibility study of the mines has been completed and expected mine-able reserve, capital and operating cost and production rate are known. The blocks would bear a minimum floor price that the winner of the mine would have to submit after the allocation. The two blocks for power developers will get a discount on the reserve price with a rider that the electricity produced should be sold to discoms on a long-term power purchase agreement. In a related development, the Coal Ministry is at the last stage of allocating 14 out of 17 mines put out for Central and State public sector undertakings. The Government is offering these blocks without charging reserve price as the minimum cost to be submitted by the firm getting the block because the blocks are not fully explored and therefore, potential reserves are not yet known, they added.