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For power sector, ‘transmission is essential issue’

According to reports, “Never realised what I am getting into,” said Piyush Goyal, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, who completed a month in office on Thursday. Goyal believes that if the transmission issue is resolved India can generate electricity for two-three years.

In an interview with Business Line Goyal shares the advantage of having the three energy ministries under one umbrella. Edited excerpts:

How are you dealing with the lack of transmission networks?

Transmission is the most essential issue. The country can live with two or three years of no additional capacity if a proper transmission system is in place. In fact, with the existing capacity we can double the output by improving efficiency and increasing supply, if we address this.

Coupled with the last-mile connectivity, particularly separate feeder lines for agriculture, this is the way forward. We are in the process of studying and creating a framework to take India into the next two decades with sufficient transmission capacity.

What steps are being taken to address fuel supply concerns?

The power sector is currently looking at more coal availability. Today, we are dealing with a situation where ministries working in silos have given coal linkages across the country based on availability and requirements, but never rationalised the process. I am trying to put in place a system to rationalise coal linkages to the nearest source, including imports.

We could import and use at the coast instead of transporting to the interiors. With this we will unlock the freight corridors and evacuate more coal. We will save thousands of crores of rupees on freight which can be passed on to the consumer or reduce distribution utility losses.

What is the way forward?

The country needs a better transmission and distribution network so that power can be evacuated from the excess supply areas to the starved areas. The power sector is facing uncertainty with court cases against coal blocks. I am hoping in July, when the court takes up the matter, there will be a resolution.

We are asking the Environment Ministry to allow coal mines (there are 150 to 200 mines) to operate. Even if they each produce 100,000 tonnes a year it becomes 20 million tonnes.

On gas, the Government is yet to decide on a long-term policy. Once the decisions are out in the public domain we will address the problem.

In my opinion gas plants could be very effective in spinning reserves for the nation and used for peak demand and grid stability.

Industry feels that if you propose differential tariffs, generation from expensive fuel (imported coal and gas) will be viable. What is your take?

I cannot tweak any tariffs. It is a regulated sector and the States are responsible for it.

I am responsible for helping increase efficiency in the sector. We never committed a particular gas price or availability to them. They set up these plants as a business decision.

How successful have you been in bringing NTPC and Coal India to the same table on fuel supply agreements?

I come from the private sector and we used to debate on viewpoints but, at the end of the day, we worked for the goal of the organisation.

NTPC may want to highlight the issue of quality of coal, and I welcome that. Everyone is working towards satisfying their own customers. The Power Ministry wants to satisfy the demands of transmission, distribution, and generation, while the Coal Ministry will want to satisfy power plants.

You suggested getting a professional to run Coal India. What has been the response from the Department of Personnel and Training?

I am yet to get a response from the DoPT.

I am hopeful that they will allow us to expand the zone of consideration to get more qualified people to come in and strengthen the public sector.

In a couple of stakeholder interactions, I have appealed to those in good positions to sacrifice remunerations and look at this as public service.

Have you raised the issue of proposed anti-dumping duty on solar cells and panels with the Finance Ministry?

We have already asked the Finance Ministry to review the anti-dumping duty on solar panels. India does not have sufficient capacity to satisfy the increasing requirement for our solar mission. The Government is committed to expanding renewable energy, particularly solar and wind energy.

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