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Tamil Nadu shows signs of losing its footing in wind energy

According to reports,  Tamil Nadu may find its pole position in captive wind energy under threat as companies are reluctant to add to capacity nor is the sector attractive enough for third-party wind power developers.

That could see the state falter in its bid to add 6,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy capacity by the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2016-17) to take it to 13,000MW from 7,162.3MW now.

Gujarat and Maharastra, which are a distant second and third in the rankings, could take advantage of this to gain on Tamil Nadu, experts said.
Madras Cements Ltd, the second largest cement maker in south India, has a wind energy capacity of 159MW. It doesn’t intend to add to this, but will instead invest in thermal energy, said a senior company executive who didn’t want to be named.

It costs Rs.5 crore to set up 1MW of thermal energy capacity and Rs.6 crore for equivalent wind energy capacity, according to Amol Kotwal, deputy director of energy and power systems at Frost and Sullivan, a business consulting firm. Inadequate infrastructure, delayed payments, and lack of incentives are discouraging further investment in the sector, critical for a power-deficient country that needs to boost energy capacity.

The trend in Tamil Nadu also reflects a wider disenchantment with the promise of wind energy as a source of seemingly “free” energy.
Madras Cements plans to enhance the capacity of the thermal power plants at Alathiyur, Jayanthipuram and Ariyalur by adding one turbine each of 6MW capacity at a total cost of Rs.55 crore, said the company in its recent annual report.

Last week, TVS Motors Ltd’s TVS Energy unit, which set up its captive 59MW wind energy unit in 2010, sold 90% of its stake to Green Infra Ltd, a renewable power producer as it was too capital intensive. The two-wheeler company did not mention whether the price at which it sold its subsidiary and whether it made profits.

Tamil Nadu gets 44% of its total energy requirement from renewable energy, with close to 90% of it coming from wind energy, pushing thermal energy to second place. This is much higher than the national average for renewable energy consumption of 12%.
With the economic slowdown hurting firms, most aren’t too keen on making investments in renewable energy. “Since the slowdown has affected the business of many companies, they would rather divert the money into their core business than put it in wind power,” said K. Vidyashankar, managing director, MM Forgings, which has a captive wind energy plant.

Wind energy is seasonal in Tamil Nadu—mostly between May and October. The southern state saw its wind energy capacity addition drop to 174MW for a total of 7,162MW in 2012-13, compared with about 1,000MW made over the previous two years. Last year, Rajasthan saw the highest addition of 614MW, taking its total capacity to 2,684MW. Gujarat set up 208MW additional capacity, adding up to a total of 3,174.9MW, and Maharastra added 288.5MW taking its total to 3,021MW.

The poor financial condition of the state power distribution company is leading to delays in payments to windmill owners, said Frost and Sullivan’s Kotwal.

Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corp. Ltd (Tangedco), the commissioning and distribution arm of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, reported a loss of Rs.54,000 crore in 2011-12.

It has taken over a year to clear payment dues. “We have cleared about Rs.2,000 crore backlog dues till April,” said a state government official.
Since a majority of the wind farm project cost is funded through debt (70-75%), irregular payments from Tangedco result in windmill owners struggling to repay bank loans. Meanwhile, the lack of infrastructure—in terms of transmission and distribution—needed to move power to the grid results in windmills having to be shut down for several hours a day, Kotwal said.

The reasons for inadequate infrastructure include incomplete projects such as the establishment of 400 kilovolts (kV), 230kV, 110kV and 11kV substations at Kanarpatti, Kayathar and Karungulam. Due to the shortage of evacuation facilities, nearly 15-20% of wind energy generated is lost, explains Kotwal.

“It is a sad state of affairs unless the transmission and tariff rates are improved,” said Ramesh Kymal, chairman, Indian Wind Turbine Manufacturers’ Association. “Additional capacity expansion may not happen as seen two years ago.”
The removal of accelerated depreciation for wind energy and raising the rates on cross-subsidy by the state has made the sector unviable, he added. It takes six-seven years for a wind energy farm to break even depending upon size and location.

On the tariff front as well, Tamil Nadu offers the lowest at Rs.3.51 per kilowatt-hour compared with states such as Gujarat (Rs.4.23) and Rajasthan (Rs.5). Tariffs are decided by the state electricity regulatory commissions.

Maharastra’s tariffs vary by zone, depending on wind energy-generating capacity. That would be a good example for Tamil Nadu to follow, said an expert who tracks the energy sector but did not want to be named.

“We currently have 15MW of wind power installed, which meets 60% of our power requirement. We will add more capacity only if get grid connectivity,” said Vidyashankar of MM Forgings. If the southern state doesn’t take strong policy measures, its ambitious capacity addition plan could come to nought, experts said.

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