MSEDCL Continues To Write the Rulebook On Killing Solar Rooftop

The Maharashtra State Energy Distribution Company Limited continues to find new ways to rile up solar stakeholders. Their latest effort, or ‘non effort’ relates to the piffling demand for central solar subsidy worth Rs 3 crores, for just 25 MW, when the potential in the state according to most experts is easily over 1000 MW.

MASMA, or the Maharashtra Solar Manufacturers Association, has highlighted this among that factors that is stifling solar rooftop growth in Maharashtra. The association goes on to claim that even previous subsidies have not been paid out by MSEDCL.

The discom, possibly the most litigious in the country, if one goes by volume of disputes it has on an ongoing basis across state, central and other regulators, not counting the judicial courts, is possibly writing the rulebook for other discoms on how not to allow solar rooftop to take root.

Earlier this year, it had sprung up a proposal for a Grid Stability Charge on the state’s potential solar rooftop consumers, of Rs 8.66 per unit. A move that would have taken solar power costs a full generation back and completely unviable. It took the state regulator, MERC, to set that right.

Then there was the alleged subsidy scam, where an MERC appinted commitee had suggested that MSEDCL had possibly been charging state consumers higher power costs, by inflating agricultural subsidies.

Even in 2019, MSEDCL did its bit to scare off consumers, with proposals to shift to net billing over net metering .

On the current move, MASMA has also highlighted that the current Expression of Interest to empanel vendors, released by MSEDCL after much pushing and prodding by people including  the state power minister, also used trusted methods to delay the process.

Conditions like  a mandatory electrical contractor license, which an overwhelming majority of state players in the sector don’t have  or in the guise of equity, dividing even the 25 MW limit across state zones are all designed to kill off interest. The agencies past record with payment delays over the smallest issue, have also made the terms on insurance , performance ratio, work allotment etc a cause for worry.

The result of this obdurate approach, and complete callousness towards rooftop solar has been a state that for all its high rankings on industrialisation, fares very poorly on rooftop solar adoption.

Neutral observers would possibly point to Maharashtra’s power surplus situation as a possible reason. Or the fact that the state has contracted for expensive  thermal power requirements that are way above existing and near term demand. But with RPO’s (Renewable purchase obligations) kicking in, this is one state discom that can be trusted to be found in multiple disputes and pleas to waive off its RPO obligations too.

MSEDCL’s resistance to solar is well established now, with the agency seeing some of the worst responses to its solar tenders on record. If ever there was a case for a strong change in attitude as well as approach towards renewable energy, the agency probably provides one of the strongest examples. With a SARAL (State rooftop solar attractiveness index for 2018-19, from the central government) ranking of 9 across India among states, readers might think the situation is not so bad. But even this ranking is courtesy the higher points the state gets due to its  advantages in parameters like investment climate and business ecosystem.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International