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Large numbers of thermal and hydroelectric power generation companies are facing bankruptcy. Reason is that the demand for electricity is not growing as expected despite a booming Sensex. This riddle becomes clear when we consider the relative movements of the Sensex and the GDP growth rate.

Hydropower companies are in loss because electricity is produced by them at Rs. 5 per unit which is much more than Rs. 2 of Solar Power

The Sensex has crossed 37,000 recently, which is much higher than the 30,000 scaled during the UPA Government. At the same time the GDP growth rate is presently placid at about 7 percent, which is lower than the 8-9 percent attained during the UPA Government. The Sensex is up and growth is down during the NDA Government. This contrary movement indicates that the big companies that drive the Sensex are doing well, while the larger economy that drives the GDP is placid. Demonetization, the complicated compliance system of the GST, and the fear phobia of scrutiny by the Income Tax authorities has killed large numbers of small businesses such as those making biscuits and bread in small towns. The market of the closed small businesses has been captured by the Sensex Companies. This shift in the market means that there is little overall growth; but the Sensex companies are doing well. This explains the booming Sensex with low GDP growth.

The profits made by the Sensex companies are distributed to investors who are, generally speaking, “rich.” These people already have washing machines and air-conditioners installed in their houses. The additional income received by them does not, therefore, translate into much increase in demand of electricity. On the other hand, the owners and workers of the small businesses have a desire to buy washing machines and air-conditioners. But the decline in their incomes has prevented them from buying these equipment and led to a stagnation in the demand for electricity. Thus the overall demand of electricity is declining.

Another reason for less demand of electricity is that the global economy is moving from manufacturing to services. The services sector includes call centers, movie studios, tourist hotels and the like. One rupee of GDP produced in the manufacturing sector requires ten times the electricity than the same one rupee of GDP produced in the services sector. The shift to services is leading to less growth in electricity consumption.

The combined effect of killing of small businesses and shift to services is that the electricity consumption is not growing. It grew at 5.9 percent in April-May 2017. This growth declined to 3.1 percent in April-May 2018. This low growth in electricity consumption has led to the spot price of electricity remaining flat. According to data from the India Energy Exchange the average price of electricity in 2017-18 was Rs 3.26 per unit. The thermal projects are viable at a price of Rs 5 to 6 per unit and hydro projects are viable at Rs 7 to 8 per unit. Thus, they are no longer profitable and are going bankrupt.

Thermal power companies are facing bankruptcy as the cost of electricity is about Rs. 5 which is costly then electricity from Solar plants

The growth of solar power has not helped. The price of solar power in a recent auction in Madhya Pradesh was a meager Rs 1.58 per unit. The cost of thermal power is about Rs 5 per unit and hydropower is around Rs 8 per unit. Thus, purchasers prefer to buy power from the solar projects and not from thermal and hydro plants.

Solar power provides cheapest electricity at Rs. 1.58 per unit against Rs. 7 by Hydro and Rs 5 by Thermal

The troubles of the thermal power generation companies are, therefore, due to: (1) The killing of small businesses by demonetization and GST; (2) Shift from manufacturing to services; and (3) Due to low cost of solar power. The first and second are due to the misplaced policies of the NDA Government. The second is a structural issue that no government can solve. Thus the thermal and hydro companies will continue to go bankrupt.

Solar power plant at Madhya Pradesh provides cheapest electricity at Rs. 1.58 per unit against Rs 7by Hydro and 5 by Thermal

How did we get here? The mischief was done by the Central Electricity Authority. This statutory body has published highly inflated forecasts of electricity demand for many years now. For 2003-04, for example, the CEA had forecast a demand of 467 Trillion units in the year 2000. The actual demand in 2003-04 was only 362 Trillion units. The CEA has encouraged the establishment of large numbers of thermal and hydro power projects by making such false inflated forecasts. I along with Professors V Ranganathan and Vinod Vyasulu had given a representation to CEA in 2010 pointing out the flaws in the methodology used in making its forecasts. You can see the representation here. The response of the CEA was to stop giving details of the methodology while continuing to publish inflated forecasts. The officers of the CEA make moolah only if new projects, especially hydro projects, are submitted for approval. In the pursuit of their moolah they have made exaggerated forecasts, and encouraged establishment of large numbers of thermal and hydro projects that are now going bankrupt.

The NDA Government will do well not to bail out these projects and, in the process, throw more good money after bad. We should let these projects die, and focus on the development of our services sector which requires less energy and solar power which is much cheaper and suitable for our natural resources. We do not have much coal, hydro power is killing both our environment and culture; but we have plenty of sunlight.


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