After a political controversy over its high power tariffs, the corporate and financial failure of the main promoter, and inadequate gas, it is now the turn of faulty equipment to stymie India’s efforts to get the Dabhol power project off the ground—and this time, the government says the problem is with turbines supplied by General Electric Co., or GE.
The Central Electricity Authority, or CEA, the top planning agency in the Indian power sector, says repeated failures of the GE gas turbines would increase the revival cost of the project, and also delay its commissioning.
The project, originally called the Dabhol Power Co. was renamed the Ratnagiri Gas and Power Project Ltd (RGPPL) after it was taken over by a combine of public sector banks, Maharashtra government, GAIL India Ltd, NTPC Ltd and financial institutions. It is divided into three phases, out of which the second and third phases, with a capacity of 740MW each, are operational. The first phase of the project, with a generation capacity of 670MW, is expected to be operational by April.
In an 18 February letter to John Rice, vice-chairman of GE and president and CEO of GE Infrastructure, India’s power secretary Anil Razdan said it was important that the plant function at “high levels” if it is to be viable after its restructuring and that GE had assured this. “The recent setbacks have put the viability of the project in jeopardy since each failure adds to the revival cost of the project. At the core of our concern is the reliability and safety of the remaining three gas turbines under operation. I would like M/s GE to confirm their safety and also immediate action,” Razdan wrote in the letter, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.
Turbine trouble: A file photo of Dabhol power station. The setbacks have put the viability of the project in jeopardy since each failure adds to the revival cost of the project, the power secretary has told GE.
“GE stands firmly behind its products and services. We are proud of and confident in the performance of our gas turbine fleet. There have been two forced outages at the RGPPL power plant, both of which are being addressed by our GE team in India which is working with the customer in an expedient manner to get the units back in service,” said Pratyush Kumar, president and chief executive officer, GE Infrastructure, India in an email. He added that “GE has shipped over 1,000 F-class units and the fleet has over 22 million hours of commercial operation.”
The F-class units are the ones being used at the RGPPL plant.
The government, meanwhile, has sought a meeting with GE representatives.
“We have called a meeting of GE’s top bosses. As per our opinion the fault could be on account of design, workmanship and manufacturing. We have asked them to identify it. These turbines have given trouble the world over. The turbines have failed three times. The company should modify the turbines to prevent such failures,” said a senior Union government official who did not wish to be identified.
RGPPL was conceived in the 1990s and originally promoted by Enron. It ran into trouble soon after with the government with which Enron signed the agreement for the plant losing in the polls, and the new government questioning the basis of the high cost of power the plant would produce.
Besides the loss of power generation capability, government officials argue that repeated failures entail substantial repair cost. Excluding the cost of spares, this has been estimated at Rs77 crore.
The project cost was originally estimated at Rs10,038 crore which was revised to Rs11,998 crore. The latest revisions peg the project cost at Rs12,182 crore.
The government had earlier raised the issue at a meeting between Rice and Razdan in the second week of January.
Mint had on 6 April reported that the second unit of the project was facing problems since the blade of the turbine supplied by GE broke at its root and damaged the compressor along with the turbine.
“While the gas turbines 1B and 2B are under repairs at GE workshops in the United Kingdom and Singapore, respectively, turbine 2A is to be sent for repairs. The project has six turbines of which four have failed over a period of time,” the Union government official added.
“This is a serious issue... Issues such as these will affect GE’s future plans in the country,” said a senior power sector analyst who did not wish to be identified.