Views of R.K. Singh: “Access to energy is a prerequisite for a poverty-free India”

“Access to energy is a prerequisite for a poverty-free India”

With the completion of the village electrification target, the government is now aggressively working to achieve the target of connecting each household by December 2018. At the recently held “Conference of Power and New & Renewable Energy Ministers of States & UTs” in Himachal Pradesh, R.K. Singh, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power and New & Renewable Energy, took stock of the various programmes being implemented, and discussed the issues facing the sector, and the action points for states to meet the 24×7 Power for All deadline. Excerpts from his remarks at the conference…

Economic growth is possible only with the growth of the energy sector. The problems facing the electricity sector such as inadequate accessibility, load shedding, non-availability of 24×7 reliable power supply, and high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses need to be fixed with the joint and coordinated efforts of the central and state governments, as the subject of electricity is on the concurrent list.

      • Electrification target: The target of 100 per cent village electrification in 1,000 days has already been met in 987 days. The greater challenge ahead will be the achievement of 100 per cent household electrification by December 31, 2018. We have noted whatever difficulties there are and we have worked out ways for removing those difficulties. On this, all of us are clear that we will achieve our target by December 31, 2018. An award scheme has been introduced for recognising the efforts of the states and their teams in achieving the 100 per cent household electrification target before the deadline of December 31, 2018.
      • Policy amendments and infrastructure creation under the IPDS: The amendments to the National Tariff Policy and the Electricity Act are being pursued by the government. All states need to give their comments on it urgently. Around 99 per cent of the works under the Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) have been awarded and progress has been made on them. The states are, however, not utilising the large amount of funds sanctioned for strengthening the power network. If any additional sanction is required by any state, it would be made with the condition that the scheme needs to be completed by March 31, 2019.
      • Hydropower: All advanced countries are exhausting their hydro capacity. In the past few years, hydro projects have been stalled because of protests and geological challenges. Due to delays in the commissioning of projects, hydropower becomes costly. The ministry is cognisant of the various problems and for some time, we have been drafting a hydropower policy wherein we are proposing a number of things, which include making hydro a part of the renewable power obligation. Also, the 12 per cent free power rule should not apply straightaway; it should apply only after 6 or 10 years so that by that time a part of the loan is repaid. The depreciation period of hydropower plants should be longer in order to reduce the tariff. The centre is at the last stage of finalising the hydro policy, which would soon be sent to the union cabinet for approval.
      • Coal shortages: Demand for coal has increased, which is a good sign for a growing economy, but the coal problem would persist for another three to four years till production from the new coal mines starts. Coal import has been allowed to overcome shortages and some of the states have already started importing coal. We are working closely with the Ministry of Coal and the Ministry of Railways to make sure that the coal reaches the power plants. We have worked out various methods to ease supply. We have worked out a tolling policy, wherein states can invite bids for procuring power on the basis of the coal linkages they have.
      • Prioritising cheaper power: Affordability is the key. Power generation companies should be allowed to supply power from more efficient plants as their tariff is lower. This will not require any change in the power purchase agreements (PPAs) and will help bring down the cost of power.
      • Balancing renewables: With increasing renewable energy penetration in the grid, more balancing power would be required. Hydro and gas-based power generation projects can provide the balancing power. Hydropower needs to be used as peaking power rather than as baseload. While all types of hydropower stations cannot be used for peaking, run-of-the-river (with pondage), storage and pumped-storage stations can be employed for peak load operation.
      • Loss reduction: AT&C loss reduction to 15 per cent by March 2019 is of utmost importance. All states with more than 15 per cent AT&C losses need to submit an action plan/ roadmap for loss reduction. If a roadmap is not put in place, government funding for various schemes may be put on hold. States where government dues are one of the factors for high AT&C losses must convert all institutional, government and utility connections to prepaid, as done by Bihar.
      • Prepaid meters: Prepaid meters are a pro-poor step. Today, a poor person may find it difficult to pay one month’s electricity bill at one go. Smart prepaid meters will enable him to pay in small instalments as per his convenience, without the fear of his connection being cut. It will also eliminate the problem of wrong bills being raised.
      • Subsidies and 24×7 power supply: The viability of the distribution segment is the most important in the entire power sector. Subsidies need to be released in time as these have cash flow and working capital implications. All subsidies need to be given through direct benefit transfer as it reaches the actual consumer and makes consumers responsible and careful about their consumption.A penalty for load shedding will be introduced from April 1, 2019 onwards. Therefore, all states should make efforts for ensuring 24×7 power supply by March 31, 2019. The Haryana government’s approach of curtailing power supply to areas with low revenue realisation is notable. This approach gives the message to consumers that if they are willing to pay, they will get better power supply. The states must also meter their agriculture pumps or go for solar pumps.
      • Renewables and encouragement for biomass: A key concern is that some state governments are not honouring existing PPAs and nor are they signing fresh PPAs. PPAs have to be honoured. The states may also consider the waiver of intra-state transmission charges for the transmission of renewable energy on the pattern of the interstate transmission system.Necessary measures need to be taken to support and promote the bioenergy sector. Biomass power plants of up to only 2 MW capacity have been accorded must-run status and merit order despatch has been imposed. To encourage the disposal of biomass in an environment-friendly manner, biomass should be converted into small briquettes and these should be used in thermal power plant boilers. All states are advised to ensure the disposal of biomass in this form to avoid environmental pollution. In case of any difficulty, they may approach NTPC Limited for technical consultancy.
      • Outlook: Once we achieve the target of 100 per cent household electrification by December 2018, we need to start thinking about raising the standard of living of households. Among other things, solar cooking and induction cooking have to be encouraged. A switch needs to be made from fossil fuel-based cooking to electricity based. We also need to move towards electrical mobility for reducing import bills.We are one team and should work together to provide electricity connections to every poor household in India. Access to energy is a prerequisite for a poverty-free India. Energy is the engine of growth and no country can ever develop with millions of its citizens living without electricity. We will make every effort and work in collaboration with the states to ensure that every citizen of India has round-the-clock power supply.