India budget has limited short term impact on power sector: Fitch

There are entrenched structural issues affecting the performance of the power sector of India and the solution would require a sustained and disciplined policy focus

July 16, 2014 11:43 IST | India Infoline News Service

Fitch Ratings says that the measures announced relating to India's electricity sector in the budget for FY2015 are directionally correct but involve relatively small steps or lack specifics to support a meaningful improvement in the short-term. There are entrenched structural issues affecting the performance of the power sector of India and the solution would require a sustained and disciplined policy focus. There is no immediate rating impact on any of the Fitch-rated power companies - NTPC Limited, NHPC Limited and Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (all rated at 'BBB-'/Stable).

In the Indian budget for FY15, the finance minister announced several measures for the power sector. These include an extension of the tax holiday for power projects to March 2017 from March 2015, which we consider to be positive for investment activity. The budget also called for the provision of adequate quantity of coal to power plants commissioned by March 2015. However, the budget lacked very specific measures detailing how this will be achieved.

Fitch believes that it will not be possible to raise the production of coal significantly within a year. Aside from inadequate domestic production, infrastructure bottlenecks such as rail infrastructure also continue to act as a constraint to ensuring adequate coal supplies to power plants. Among the announced measures is the rationalisation of coal linkages to reduce transportation costs of coal; while this is a good measure, we believe such a reallocation of coal resources would have operational issues and can take some time to achieve.

Domestic coal production is much lower than the requirements of the power sector, and hence we think the coal shortage at various power plants will continue. India's total coal based power capacity at April 2014 was around 140 gigawatts (GW). This is expected to increase by around 15GW per year, which would require an additional 60 million tonnes of coal. There needs to be a sustained and long term plan in order to consistently increase domestic coal production.

The new administration has intensified pressure on Coal India Limited to improve its coal delivery. At the same time, the agency understands the government may revive coal pooling (i.e. pooled prices by combining both domestic and imported coal) as the country will have to import higher quantities of coal to support demand given that domestic production may be slow to ramp-up.

India also has around 20GW of gas based power plants which are severely affected due to the low availability of domestic gas. The budget also focuses on the renewable sector - most notably solar - for which there is an allocation of INR10bn for setting up solar plants in a few states and solar power driven agricultural pumpsets.

The entire ecosystem of the power sector - from generation to distribution - needs to be strengthened. The financial health of the various state utilities needs to be improved through tariff rationalization and by addressing transmission and distribution losses.

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