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Arup Roy Choudhury, CMD, National Thermal Power Corporation

22 Feb 2013

Coal crisis, power shortage, tariff issues, etc – the power sector seems to be in the middle of a whirlwind of problems. Though, some of these are probably in the way of getting solved, we wanted to get a few realistic answers. And who better than the man himself -- Arup Roy Choudhury, CMD, National Thermal Power Corporation. In a free-wheeling chat with InfralinePlus’s Pallavi Chakravorty, he gives important insights into the root cause of the issues and how they can be dealt in the best possible way. Edited excerpts:

NTPC has elaborate plans for the future and also in supercritical plants. But with the current coal crisis, where do you think you are heading to?

You must understand that we don’t start any project unless coal linkage is there. We are a Maharatna company so we won’t get any clearance from our board unless we have the land, water supply,
etc. so we cannot be in a situation wherein our project is stranded because of coal. Whatever we commit, for example, if we have committed 14,500 MW in the 12th Plan, we have been able to do that because we have 16,500 MW under construction today, which is why we are 100 per cent sure to achieve the targets. But yes, if we had more coal, if those 3-4 mines that were taken away were given back to us formally, we could do 11,000 MW more. And we were at a stage when we were targeting 25,000 MW for the 12th plan, but now it’s too late because six months have gone and by the time we get restoration of the coal mines, I don’t think we can bring in a project and squeeze it in the 12th plan. We are on track for the 120,000 MW by the end of the 15th plan. For the past couple of years, India’s coal production has almost remained the same whereas the power sector has expanded by 10-12 per cent, so there is an accumulated gap, which is why there is a sudden chaos around coal. Everyone is talking about coal, in fact some private sector companies have put up installations without coal linkage. Plus, global prices of coal have increased, which is why imported coal has become expensive.
But we have a lot of domestic coal and our mainstay has to be that.

“In  an overall situation we have to learn to discipline ourselves, some states overdrew than their specified load and the systems snapped.”

We have been propagating the need for a coal regulator, in the presence of which there would be more people mining coal and there can be uniform pricing. Today, Coal India is the only coal mining agency which is not really regulated. Also, there is pressure on the management of Coal India to increase the bottom lines. If you have to improve your bottom lines whether production happens or not, price has to be increased. As coal accounts for almost 80 per cent of the total cost of production, it would eventually increase the cost of power. If that happens the budgeting of the state electricity boards goes haywire, they will not be able to pay for electricity and when that happens, generation would be affected. Whereas coal shortage is a big issue, it is also very important we get into a situation where the paying capacity of the SEBs and the affordability of power is also looked at. And we can make that possible only if we go by domestic coal, and we have 104-105 million tonnes of minable coal plus 300 reserves so we are in surplus that way. We are not even mining half a billion.

(InfralineEnergy thanks Arup Roy Choudhury, CMD, National Thermal Power Corporation, for sharing his valuable insights with our readers. The column 'In-Conversation', is a platform to engage experts from various sectors to share their views on the different transformations happening in the Indian energy sector.)