Coal-based power plants are feeling the heat of spike in thermal grade coal prices and railway freight costs. Prices of thermal grade coal since the last notification by Coal India on January 9 this year have moved up by 15-18 per cent. This apart, the levy of evacuation charge of Rs 50 per tonne is estimated to increase the cost of generation for coal-based power plants by 13-15 paise per unit. Also, the Ministry of Railways through a notification on January 9 this year has rationalized the freight rates for coal transportation and withdrawing the levy of busy season surcharge (15 per cent) and development surcharge (five per cent) on coal transportation. The busy season surcharge is levied from April to June and October to March in a financial year. On an annual basis, the freight rates have been revised by 3.4-3.6 per cent across various distance slabs. According to a report by Icra, the impact of this freight revision on the cost of generation for thermal plants could be two to four paise per unit depending on the distance of the project from the associated coal mine. "Thermal power plants are already operating at lower load due to rising demand for renewable power.
The hike in coal and railway freight costs is a blow on the operations of the coal-based units. The plants without long-term PPAs will suffer the most”, said an industry source.For domestic coal-based IPPs (independent power producers) which have competitively bid based PPAs, the impact on the margins will be dependent on the extent of scalable energy charge component in the tariff structure. For power generating companies and IPPs without long-term PPAs and having exposure to short-term PPAs, the profitability will be negatively impacted with a rise in coal price, given the subdued short-term tariffs with the surplus generation capacity available in the country. Icra expects a partial pass-through by private IPPs with a competitive bid based PPAs for the balance coal-based generation. Under these assumptions, the cost of power procurement for discoms at an all India level is estimated to increase by about nine paise per unit. Assuming the average AT&C (aggregate technical & commercial) loss level at around 23 per cent in the country, the impact of the revision in coal prices and railway freight on cost of power supply per unit sold and retail tariffs (assuming full pass through by state regulators) is estimated at around 14 paisa per unit or 2.3 per cent tariff hike. However, the state-wise extent of an increase in the cost of power supply and hence, in retail tariff for a distribution utility would be dependent upon the mix of coal-based generation in its overall power procurement, the Icra report stated. Cost of thermal power generation is likely to witness upward pressure due to Capex (Capital expenditure) requirement for complying with the revised environment norms, operating cost associated with the same as well as the cost of ensuring flexibility in operations with rising share of renewables.