State-owned hydropower generator NHPC Ltd is working on expanding its project portfolio at a time when hydel electricity generation is beginning to receive renewed policy attention. The focus on hydroelectric power comes in the wake of the government’s attempts to scale up the share of the hydel sector in the country’s overall energy mix and reverse the declining trend witnessed over the last 10 years in order to counterbalance the massive deployment of renewable capacity. A higher hydel generation in the energy mix makes it easier for grid managers to adjust to the vagaries of solar and wind generation on a daily basis. NHPC Ltd Chairman and Managing Director Balraj Joshi tells The Indian Express that the company is also looking at devising some kind of mechanism to take over stranded private projects. Edited excerpts:
Has hydropower actually become more attractive to states following the announcement of tariff rationalisation under the new hydro policy? How many more states have approached NHPC since?
It certainly has become not only more attractive, but also the need of the hour for the economy. States like Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and even Himachal Pradesh (have been expressing interest). We have been asked that, in projects earlier given by the government to private (players), because nothing is moving there, would NHPC be interested. We (have told) the Ministry of Power that, yes, we would be interested, provided they do not carry any legacy baggage… We are certainly looking forward to more projects in Arunachal Pradesh and, in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh where we have already bagged one project each.
How competitive do you feel hydropower is compared to other renewable energy sources like solar and wind power?
Today, if you look at the average tariff for hydropower, it is around Rs 3.34 per unit. So, it is not costly at all. And this is despite giving 12 per cent free power to states.
Which private projects are you currently in discussions about?
There is the upcoming Jal Power Project Rangit IV (a 120 mega watt joint venture project of the Sikkim Government and Noida-based Jal Power Corporation Ltd that was being developed on BOOT – build-own-operate-transfer basis) that is now under the block, so we are interested in getting that. As far as the private projects in Arunachal Pradesh are concerned, they have been coming to us unofficially and otherwise also (to take on those projects), but we have to devise some kind of mechanism to take them over, if at all. We are in talks with them.
Demwe (Lower Hydroelectric Project) is there, which is also referred to National Company Law Tribunal… Attunli (Hydroelectric Power Project) is there…and Nafra. Let’s see what the state government does, and then we’ll see whether they are commercially viable or not.
What legacy costs will make a project unattractive for you?
(These are issues like) upfront payment made by these developers. If they ask us to return that money, we will not be able to do that. For example, some developer has given to the Arunachal Pradesh government. If they say, to have this project, you have to first return that Rs 200 crore, that we will not do. If they have some litigation or arbitration cases, we will not (take those up).