Discoms Could Save ~Rs 22K Cr due to Indexed RE Tariff: IEEFA & CEEW

Discoms Could Save ~Rs 22K Cr due to Indexed RE Tariff: IEEFA & CEEW

“Our modelling shows that the Discoms could save up to Rs 21,880 crore over the next five-year period under a partially indexed tariff structure”

The inflation indexation of tariffs for future solar capacity could provide much-needed financial respite to the distressed power distribution sector (Discoms) and help India move away from coal-fired power, according to a new joint briefing note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and the CEEW-Centre for Energy Finance (CEF).

Zero indexation tariffs have been the norm in India for many years, per co-authors CEEW-CEF Adviser Gagan Sidhu and IEEFA Research Analyst Kashish Shah.

Discoms Indexed Tariff

Indian solar power tariffs hit a record low of Rs 2.36 per unit in June 2020, with zero inflation indexation for 25 years. But the authors believe the state-owned power distribution companies (Discoms) have not been able to take full advantage of new cheaper renewable energy due to two-part thermal contracts that command a fixed capacity charge even if no power is drawn.

The note proposes that solar tariffs start at a very low Rs 2.00/kWh for the first year of the 25-year PPA, rising at an indexed rate of 2.2 percent of annual inflation for 15 years and then at a flat rate of 0 percent for the remaining life of the contract.

“The Discoms face the twin challenges of a decline in electricity demand, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, and expensive and under-utilised legacy thermal power contracts at a time when ambitious growth in new renewable energy capacity is being targeted,” said Sidhu.

“Our modelling shows that the Discoms could save up to Rs 21,880 crore (USD 3 billion) over the next five-year period under a partially indexed tariff structure, even with ongoing deflation of solar tariffs. This is compared with cash outflows resulting from incremental renewable capacity auctioned under a flat tariff regime.

“We assumed that flat solar tariffs would decline at just 2.5 percent year over year for the next five years, reaching Rs 2.13/kWh by 2025/26. This is an interim solution to ease the unsustainable near-term financial pressure on discoms. The pandemic has compounded the discoms’ long-standing structural and financial issues and lower renewable tariffs achieved through indexation would give them vital breathing room to implement more durable and lasting reforms.”

The authors then pointed out that from the developer perspective, the proposed indexed tariff structure still results in a post-tax equity internal rate of return that is comparable to a flat tariff environment.

Front-ending tariffs at a rate of Rs 2.00/kWh would not only give the Discoms short- to medium-term relief, it would also provide them with an added incentive to increase purchasing of renewable energy instead of coal-fired power.

Though the note adds that the need for indexed over flat solar tariffs to displace coal would taper off by 2025/26 as flat solar tariffs will decline below Rs 2.00/kWh levels.

“This will help India to grow renewable energy capacity from the current level of 89 gigawatts (GW) to achieve its target of 450 GW by 2030. It will also unlock demand for an acceleration in new investment and jobs as India climbs out of the COVID-19 recession,” said Shah.

“However, such an ambitious rollout of renewable energy will need to be managed carefully to ease pressure on the discoms, with renewable capacity priced to reflect the current competitive environment, buoyed by strong and growing global capital markets’ interest in Indian renewable infrastructure investments.”

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Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.