Lack of PPAs, coal linkage add to overcapacity woes as costs balloon from Rs 1,85,000 cr from Rs 1,45,000 cr
Lower-than-expected growth in demand for electricity, coupled with the overcapacity of installed power projects, has precipitated a situation where more than 20,000 MW of under-construction coal-based power projects in the private sector are staring at an uncertain future. Out of the 25,185 MW such capacity under construction, only projects with 5,085 MW have announced the commissioning date, while others are listed by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) as “uncertain”. Most of these ‘uncertain’ projects are among the stressed power plants identified by the government. The cost of the under-construction private sector power projects now stands at more than Rs 1,85,000 crore, up from original estimate of Rs 1,45,000 crore. Bankers are reluctant to release the sanctioned loans to most of these projects. Till December 2017, independent power producers had spent more than Rs 63,000 crore on these uncertain projects. At the same time, the Centre and state governments, with easier electricity offtake and coal supply assurances, are busy augmenting thermal power capacity creation in the public sector, making it more difficult for private players to implement announced projects.
According to informed sources who did not wish to be identified, the project delays were mainly due to delays in land acquisition, procuring environmental and other regulatory clearances. Private industry players complained that state power plants are putting up their own power plants and getting state electricity regulators approve power purchase agreements (PPAs) without going through competitive bidding. These measures do not provide a level playing field for independent power companies. Most of the uncertain under-construction private power projects were awarded letters of allocation between 2009-11.
Research firm India Ratings recently said that new and under-construction thermal power projects, in the absence of long-term PPAs, might be unable to refinance their construction loans if the demand scenario does not improve. Going by the power demand estimates by the CEA, existing PPAs are sufficient to meet electricity demand till FY22. In the five-year plan period FY13-17, private power players had commissioned 53,660 MW of thermal generating units, 22% more than the original target of 43,540 MW.
Overall capacity addition of 99,210 MW was 130% more than the target. Electricity demand growth has been 4.93% CAGR in this period. The current installed power capacity (including renewables) now stand at 334 GW against the peak demand of 164 GW. Companies with under-construction projects such as Lanco (4,000 MW) and East Coast Energy (1,320 MW) are going through bankruptcy and insolvency proceeding at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). There has been no development at Essar Power’s 1,200 MW Tori power plant in Jharkhand in the last three to four years after lenders stopped disbursing funds to it after the 2014 Supreme Court verdict cancelling captive coal blocks.
The company had completed 43% of the Tori project, spending Rs 4,800 crore and also signed PPAs with Bihar for 750 MW before the Supreme Court deallocated the blocks, on which the power plant being built was depending. Industry experts have attributed the current woes of the power sector to underutilised capacity due to the shortage of PPAs, emerging coal shortages to meet even the requirement of existing operational capacity and weak finances of the state-owned power distribution utilities, which are deterring bankers from invest more in the sector.
“Developers and bankers of stalled projects would wait for signs of improvement before taking up investments. The trigger for infusion of fresh funds would be increase in PLF (plant load factor) of operating capacity to 70-72% and Coal India meeting ACQ (annual contracted quantity) of concluded fuel supply agreements,” said Ashok Kumar Khurana, director general, Association of Power Producers, which represents independent power companies.