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Dr. Arup Roy Choudhury , CMD, NTPC Limited

02 Feb 2017

Dr. Arup Roy Choudhury is currently the Chief Commissioner, Right to Public Service Commission, in West Bengal. He was previously the CMD of NTPC Limited, India's biggest power generating utility. In this interview, Choudhury shares his views on coal sector in India, issues being faced and whether moving away from coal is the right strategy for India in the long run?

In an attempt to keep Infraline Energys’ readers abreast with the key issues and challenges engulfing the sector, Infraline Energy tries to bring forth the opinion of key personnel whose decisions and opinion play a vital role in shaping the sector. Please find below excerpts from the interview that Infraline Energy conducted

Please share your outlook on the coal sector.

We have one of the biggest coal reserves in the world. Efforts have to be made for supplying the required quantity and quality of coal to our generating plants. Installing crushers and coal washeries are the only way for making our coal compatible with international coal. India is a poor country and it is only through cheap coal that we can deliver affordable power (< Rs. 3/- per unit) to each and every citizen. Once we raise our level economically; there will be a substantial segment of the society who will willingly buy costlier cleaner power from solar, wind, and hydro sources. We should create a “green grid” on the likes of outlets for organic food items that has now become so popular with the affluent.

How has the doubling of clean energy cess on coal, lignite and peat year impacted power developers?

Unfortunately we are still looking at the power sector in silos. Royalty for coal, different type of cess and taxes on coal, cost of railway freight, constant increase in coal prices etc are decided and announced by different authorities without the least concern about the cost of the end product; which is the cost at which power can be provided to the citizens.

According to the draft National Electricity Plan formulated by CEA, the country does not need any fresh coal capacity till 2027. What are your views on the same?

Probably we need a nationwide debate on this and somewhere I feel we are missing the larger picture up to the 12th Plan and even projection of 13th Plan, we have massive plans for developing our indigenous power capacity with our own fuel i.e. coal. I see no reason to change that national plan. We should rather make efforts to reduce emission by coal generating stations and fully exploit every mega watt of our hydro potentials by installing mega, mini and micro hydro electric generating units all over the country.

Worldwide, there has been a perceptible change in perception against coal and towards clean energy sources like solar. In this context, what should be the future growth strategies of companies like NTPC? Should they look at diversifying into renewable?

NTPC should add solar, synergizing the same with the release of its old plant (which are still efficiently running because of the strong operational capabilities of NTPC) and the 10,000 mega watt solar it has committed is linked to the 2000 megawatt Singrauli project. The power from these depreciated coal plants once bundled with solar will provide affordable energy and popularize solar and cleaner power. Further solar expansion should be done by NTPC when older units like Korba etc are released back to NTPC. With regard to the worldwide concern, I would ask the reader to collect the per carbon emission globally and in our neighborhood and come to a conclusion. It will take atleast 25 years for us to become a developed country and that can happen only when we develop on our own resources. If we do not use up our coal reserves either it will burn below the soil or become technologically barred; thus we lose the natural advantage.

Can a country like India, which is heavily dependent on coal and has one of the largest deposits of coal, move away from coal? What is the ideal energy mix that India should look at?

Coal and Hydro should remain the major source of energy since any other generating mode will entrain depending on foreign technology and products and would be a huge dent on our foreign currency reserves.

Can India adopt clean coal technologies and how?

Companies like NTPC are already working on clean coal technology and all generating stations of the country should make contribution for developing clean coal technology. The entire amount of coal cess as collected by the government should be diverted towards clean coal technology.

There is high stock of coal at thermal power stations due to low demand. In this scenario, don’t you feel that the Government should instruct power utilities to only consume domestic coal and not look for imports, and why?

Our per capita consumption of power is around 1/3 of China. The low demand is nothing but high cost to the consumer and poor distribution networking. Someone has to look at power accessibility and whose domain is that? In our federal system, we seem to be passing this essential infrastructure development between central and state budgets. There are power cuts enforced, not because there is inadequate power, but because the states are unable to support the losses being incurred on account of political subsidies without financial provisions in the budgets of the states. Government also must find ways to make investment from its infrastructure budgets and not load this cost to the tariff or expect the discoms to bear these costs. After all there is no “free lunch” and cost is ultimately passed to the consumer who is at the end of the chain.

There have been growing incidences of mining accidents in India in the recent past. How, in your opinion, can India ensure highest safety standards for its coal mines?

I am unable to comment on this because whereas internationally the underground mining is done to avoid any disturbance to the environment and habitation, in India we are doing open cast mining where the chances of accident have to be remote unless there is human failure. (These are the personal views of Dr. Arup Roy Choudhury as a professional and have no link to the responsibility and position that he currently holds.)

Infraline Energy would like to thank the contributor for his/her valuable time and opinion shared on the topic.