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Strong Payment Mechanism Partly Contributes to Solar Tariff Free Fall; Solar Projects Funding To Ease Says ICRA

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The strong payment security mechanism from the counterparty in the recently concluded auctions for 750 MW of solar projects in Rewa Solar Park, Madhya Pradesh, will enable fund raising at competitive rates, says India Ratings and Research (India Ratings). The agency believes that the reduced risk from the counterparty because of payment security mechanisms is one of the levers for the steep fall in tariffs quoted by the bidders.

The new payment security mechanism includes the state government payment guarantee, payment security fund (about 35-40% of revenue at plant load factor of 22%) and a deemed generation compensation for the grid unavailability, in addition to the regular letter of credit. Low tariff will also incentivise the offtakers to pay on-time. Notwithstanding the new payment structure, in the event of the tariffs not being commensurate with the capital cost - reminiscent to the aggressive bids seen in the road sector – will stress the coverage ratios of these projects. Thus the cost of funding and lower solar panel prices (fallen by ~28% yoy) are critical factors for the sharp fall in solar bids.

While the state guarantee and payment security fund (PSF) provides a cushion,however it is imperative to know the terms for invocation of the guarantee and the replenishment of PSF. In the event of guarantee invocation or tapping of PSF after a substantial delay in payments – beyond 60 days – the players could be forced to avail working capital facilities and bear the related financial costs.

In another development, Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) is now included as a beneficiary in the tripartite agreement with the Reserve Bank of India, Government of India and the states. This development will allow withholding of central assistance to states in case of a default to SECI. As a result, SECI’s future bids are likely to fall to lower tariffs than earlier. The reduced counterparty risk will aid in curtailing the borrowing costs for these projects.

Evolving Security Mechanism A Positive

Though solar projects relatively enjoy stable receivable days from most counterparties, the underlying risk from the weak financial profile of most distribution utilities remain. Certain distributionutilities however exhibit different payment days for different generation assets (thermal and wind) and this pattern among discoms provides limited comfort in assessing the reliability of the offtakers. Thus the inclusion of SECI as a beneficiary in the tripartite agreement gains significance in providing reliability of collections.

Threat of Grid Uncertainty Partially Addressed

In light of grid curtailment faced by wind projects in few states and also by solar projects in Tamil Nadu, the development of providing deemed generation benefits for grid non-availability is a positive development. India Ratings had highlighted this in the report ‘Market Wire: Grid Curtailment Contagion Puts Pressure on Credit Profiles of Renewable Energy Projects’.

However, Ind-Ra believes that it may be unsustainable for the off-takers to carry this risk as the distribution utilities do not operate the grid. The responsibility of grid operation lies with the loaddespatch centres within the constraints posed by the transmission infrastructure and load-generation balancing. Thus, the onus of enabling evacuation also lies with the open access provider and network operator. Clarity in responsibilities and contractual incentives and penalties will ensure that all the stakeholders (including off-takers, open access providers and network operators) are aligned towards the goal of uninterrupted evacuation for renewable power.

Bids Reach New Lows

Auction for implementing 750MW in Rewa Solar Park was concluded at INR2.970-/kWh, INR2.979 and INR2.974 for three units of 250MW each, with 5 paise per year escalation for first 15 years. Offtakers are Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and Madhya Pradesh Power Management Corporation Ltd. The previous low in terms of tariffs of INR4.34/kWh was offered by Fortum of Finland was exactly a year ago in January 2016. Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Limited, which is developing the Rewa solar park, is a joint venture of SECI and Madhya Pradesh Urja Vikas Nigam Limited. Land acquisition and evacuation are the responsibility of the solar park, thus mitigating significant risks for the project developers. The low tariffs discovered makes the solar projects highly competitive in merit order, as the variable charges of marginal power for most states lie above INR3.5/kWh. - Contributed By ICRA

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