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Power producers refuse to sign supply agreements with Coal India

There has been no resolution so far to the issue of assured fuel supply from Coal India Limited (CIL) to power producers.  According to reports, while CIL released a model supply agreement in April 2012, so far only around 13 Fuel Supply Agreements (FSAs) have been signed.  Originally around 50 power units were expected to sign FSAs with CIL.  Power producers have objected to the model FSA released by CIL, particularly its force majeure provisions and the dilution of financial penalties in case of lower than contracted supply.

Background

The adverse power supply situation has attracted greater attention in the past few months.  According to Central Electricity Authority’s data, the gap between peak demand and peak supply of power in March 2012 was 11 per cent.  The decreasing availability of fuel has emerged as a critical component of the worsening power supply situation.  As of March 31, 2012, there were 32 critical thermal power stations that had a coal stock of less than 7 days.  The gap between demand and supply of coal in the past three years is highlighted below:

Table 1: Coal demand/Supply gap (In millions of tonnes)

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

Demand

604

656

696

Supply

514

523

535

Gap

90

133

161

Source: PIB News Release dated May 7, 2012

Coal accounts for around 56 per cent of total installed power generation capacity in India.  Increased capacity in thermal power has also accounted for almost 81 per cent of the additional 62,374 MW added during the 11th Plan period.  Given the importance of coal in meeting national energy needs, the inability of CIL to meet its supply targets has become a major issue.  While the production target for CIL was 486 MT for 2011-12, its actual coal production was 436 MT.

Fuel Supply Agreements

In March 2012, the government asked CIL to sign FSAs with power plants that have been or would be commissioned by March 31, 2015.  These power plants should also have entered into long term Power Purchase Agreements with distribution companies.  After CIL did not sign FSAs by the deadline of March 31, 2012 the government issued a Presidential Directive to CIL on April 4, 2012 directing it to sign the FSAs.  The CIL board approved a model FSA in April 2012, which has not found acceptance by power producers.

According to newspaper reports, many power producers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the model FSA released by CIL.  They have argued that it differs from the 2009 version of FSAs in some major ways.  These include:

  • The penalty for supplying coal below 80 per cent of the contracted amount has been reduced from 10 per cent to 0.01 per cent.  The penalty will be applicable only after three years.
  • The new FSA has extensive force majeure provisions that absolve CIL of non-supply in case of multiple contingencies – including equipment breakdown, power cuts, obstruction in transport, riots, failure to import coal due to “global shortage or delays… or no response to enquiries (by CIL) for supply of coal.”
  • CIL would have the discretion to annually review the supply level that would trigger a financial penalty.  There was no provision for such a review in the earlier FSA.

Most power producers, including NTPC, the country’s biggest power producer, have refused to sign the new FSA.  Reports suggest that the Power Minister has asked the Prime Minister’s Office to mandate CIL to sign FSAs within a month based on the 2009 format.  CIL has received a request from NTPC to consider signing FSAs based on the same parameters as their existing plants, but with the revised trigger point of 80 per cent (down from 90 per cent earlier).

Underlying this situation is CIL’s own stagnating production.  Various experts have pointed to the prohibition on private sector participation in coal mining (apart from captive projects) and the backlog in granting environment and forest clearances as having exacerbated the coal supply situation.

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