India is the world’s fastest-growing market for the fossil fuel. So why are investors fleeing?
If India is such a bright hope for global coal demand, why can’t investors see it?
The country will experience the largest increase in coal burning through 2023, according to the International Energy Agency, with a 3.9% annual pace of growth that should be enough to offset falling consumption in developed countries. BloombergNEF, whose forecasts tend to be less bullish than the IEA’s on fossil fuel demand, is not far behind: Coal-fired generation will increase about 48% by 2030 to hit 1,512 terawatt-hours, more than all of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
The curious thing is that when you look at the Indian power sector, there are few signs it’s on the brink of a boom. Quite the opposite: As many as 65 gigawatts of the 90GW of private-sector generators connected in India are under financial stress, according to a parliamentary report last year. As my colleague Andy Mukherjee has written, the resulting 1.8 trillion rupees ($26 billion) in bad loans is contributing to a nonperforming asset crisis that risks undermining the Indian financial system.
Furthermore, activity to increase coal-fired generation is overwhelmingly dependent on state support. Out of 48GW of coal generators planned to be built by 2027 under the country’s current electricity plan, just 14% is being developed by the private sector; a matching 48GW of generation is already slated for retirement by the same date.
Even that modest level of private investment appears to be retreating now, according to a report published Friday by the Centre for Financial Accountability, a Delhi-based group pushing for better standards of development finance. Lending to coal-fired power fell 90% in 2018, to 60 billion rupees from 608 billion rupees the previous year, the CFA said. The vast majority of that total was refinancing of existing plants: Just 12 billion rupees was dedicated to new generation, all of it to just one state-backed plant in Uttar Pradesh…Full Story