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We don’t believe in attacking others’ power systems: RK Singh

Union power minister Raj Kumar Singh. (Photo: Mint)Premium
Union power minister Raj Kumar Singh. (Photo: Mint)

  • Union cabinet minister RK Singh talks about new electricity distribution reforms and India’s growing position as a global climate leader.
  • Singh said the govt also plans to extend the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to electrolysers and an uniform electricity tariff is being examined for future green bids

NEW DELHI : Raj Kumar Singh, the two-time Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Arrah, Bihar, was recently elevated as a Union cabinet minister for the ministries of power and new and renewable energy. In an interview, Singh talked about new electricity distribution reforms and India’s growing position as a global climate leader. The Centre also plans to extend the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to electrolysers and an uniform electricity tariff is being examined for future green bids, he said. India will also take up the climate financing commitments made by developed nations at the Conference of the Parties (COP 26). Singh, a former home secretary and a 1975 batch Bihar cadre IAS officer, also termed cyberattacks on India’s power grid as an act of warfare.

Edited excerpts:

When will the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, be tabled in Parliament?

It has gone to the cabinet secretariat, which has to put it up before the cabinet. It is something that is necessary and something on which nobody can have cogent objections because, what are we saying? We are saying let’s delicense it. Why do we still have licensing in distribution? By doing so, you will open up the doors to competition. You have to decide whether the people exist to serve the discoms (distribution companies) or vice-versa. The discoms exist to serve the people, and the people deserve a choice. If you provide good service and if your pricing is better, you compete on price and service. Whosoever gives better service to the people will survive. That’s how it is. That’s how it should be. Nobody can have a right to monopoly. This has nothing to do with the ability of a state to give subsidies. The right of an elected government to give subsidy to any category of people it wants to will remain, whether the discom is a public company or a private company, or whether it is a single or multiple entity. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t want people to pay for power, the people will not pay for the power. But then you have to pay for the power. You are not paying for the power actually. The taxpayer is paying for it.

India’s largest power generation utility NTPC Ltd is operating at a low plant load factor (PLF).

PLF for the entire system is 55-60%. That means that about 40% is not being scheduled, because we have installed capacity of 382 gigawatts (GW) against a maximum demand of 200GW. Basically, PLF of thermal power plants will remain around this level and may come down a bit further because we are in the midst of an energy transition. It is a conscious transition and that has to be done in a sustainable manner. The transition is necessary for the environment and our government has a commitment to (protecting the) environment. We will be the first ones (in the world) to come out with large grid-scale green hydrogen manufacturing. So, PLF of thermal power plants is not going to touch 80%. That’s a conscious decision.

Will the PLI scheme be extended to electrolysers used for producing green hydrogen?

It is coming. That is my next proposal to the cabinet. It is getting drafted. We are bringing a scheme for electrolysers.

Will India raise the threats posed by Chinese hackers targeting our critical infrastructure, such as the power grid, on the global stage?

We are strengthening our cybersecurity mechanism. We are carrying out exercises to check the measures we have instituted to tackle cyberattacks and we are strengthening those measures. Basically, any country will never accept that they are behind the cyberattacks. The attacks also followed a system of mirroring, i.e. bouncing it of servers of other countries. But by and large we know from where it did happen and from where it is happening. We have a fair idea. This is something that the country from where it is being originated will deny, but again this is something which is a type of warfare. It is a type of warfare and in warfare it can never be one way.

Are you also doing something?

I am not saying that. I am not in that field. I am only saying this: that by and large people should desist from doing this. We don’t believe in attacking other people’s power systems.

Will a uniform electricity tariff across India ever become a reality?

I can’t say right now. Some states have made proposals like this. So, I can’t really say that it’s going to be a reality or not. It is something that needs to be examined whether its feasible or not. People tie-up power on long-term PPAs (power purchase agreements) at a particular rate fixed by a regulator. If you are buying it off the market then it is already one grid. If you are buying it off the exchange its already one grid. In some fields such as renewables, where there is a trajectory of tariff reduction, there an early mover discom is at a disadvantage because those who buy renewable energy subsequently get a lower tariff because of this downward trajectory. So, it is not an equitable system. As far as renewable is concerned, it is being examined carefully as to whether its possible to have, not for the PPAs that have already been signed but going forward, a system whereby all bids are pooled together as they happen and the average rates revised according to that, so that somebody who buys power earlier is not at a disadvantage compared to those who buy power later. That is one of the models which is being examined. The other model, of course, is those who buy power earlier can be given some RECs (renewable energy certificates), etc., when the power prices drop. But basically this is a question which is valid. Why should those who buy power earlier be at a disadvantage?

What has been the status of the Green Climate Fund set up to provide developing nations $100 billion annually by 2020 to counter climate change?

Nothing has come. Our entire capacity addition has been done by us. Is anything anywhere visible in Africa? They should have been funding the poorer counties in Africa, those who have not been able to provide energy access to 800 million people.

Will India take this issue for discussions in November at COP 26 in Glasgow?

At every conference we have been pointing out that you have made commitments but have not kept them. We will also do it in this (COP 26). It was part of our earlier conversations with Alok Sharma (COP26 president) and it will be part of our future conversations as well.

With the lapsing of safeguard duty imposed on solar cells, modules and inverters, will it not create an opportunity for developers to import till the basic custom duty on cells and modules is imposed from 1 April?

It won’t help because we have an approved list of models and manufacturers (ALMM) that applies to virtually everything, every bid. If you want government assistance in any form, for example free transmission, it's government assistance. So it has to be Made in India. Otherwise you will not qualify. It won’t help because we have this approved list of models and manufacturers (ALMM) and ALMM applies to virtually everything, every bid. If you want government assistance in any form, for example free transmission—its government assistance. So, it has to be Made in India otherwise you will not qualify.

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