Delhi will start rolling out 1,000 electric buses from July next year: Varsha Joshi, secretary, power and transport, Delhi govt
“The intention is not to purchase the buses upfront. It would be done on the same cluster model as the existing Orange buses”
Delhi government is busy firming up plans for the roll out of 1,000 electric buses beginning July 2019 as part of a major drive towards cutting down pollution and greening the national capital. Other focus areas of the government include ramping up the adoption of solar rooftop projects and the just approved solar farming scheme, Varsha Joshi, secretary, power and transport, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi tells ETEnergyworld in an exclusive interview. Edited excerpts.:
Delhi has been in news recently for crying foul over lack of coal for power plants supplying it electricity. Power Minister Satyendra Jain recently wrote to the Union power ministry on this. How grave is the problem?
The minister (Satyendra Jain) had to write another letter recently because the Dadri power station went well below one day of stock. This is quite alarming. We have no idea where does the problem lie – whether it is lack of coal production or inadequate supply of railway rakes. It is not our job to supply coal or to supply rakes or even to produce power. We are only a customer. Dadri has been built primarily to serve the power needs of Delhi, which is the capital of India. Even a remote idea of a blackout in Delhi is not palatable to anyone. Of course, we have Bawana plant too. But, there is a limit to how far that can be used. Ultimately, there exists a PPA for supply to Delhi and NTPC has to honour it.
So, what has been the response from the power ministry’s side?
Delhi’s power minister had a discussion with the Union power minister in the Power Ministers’ Conference in Shimla recently. We got the assurance that the problem will be solved. I just hope they will be able to assist us in resolving the issue.
The Delhi government is working on a Solar Rooftop Demand Aggregation Programme. What is the larger plan?
When it comes to deploying rooftop solar, it is always difficult to get the residential sector moving, especially in a heavily-congested city like Delhi. This requires very intense conversation with the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). We have the scheme in place along with the Generation Based Incentive (GBI) and a vendor on board. These are the easy parts. The hard part is to understand as to why the residents may have apprehensions. The cost is not high and, in fact, the financial and economic case for these projects is very clear. They will be saving money and we have the provision for an incentive of Rs 2 per unit also. But residents ask for more clarity on multiple questions — who is the developer, can he be trusted and what happens to the roof later when I sell the house? Questions are also asked on what is the RESCO (Renewable Energy Service Company) model and why should they trust the RESCO? These are concerns raised by residents and we are working to address them.
So, what is the current status?
We have been talking extensively to the cooperative group housing societies or RWAs. A lot of effort goes into taking all the stakeholders on board. The European Union (EU) has been assisting MNRE in launching a portal which will act as a platform for the scheme. The portal will display the vendors and the customers can come and register themselves. This is very similar to SPIN, the online portal for Solar Photovoltaic Installation, in its basic spirit. It is being developed by the Delhi discoms, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Management Centre (EE&REM) and MNRE. It is being designed to be user-friendly and informative. We are also trying to make the entire process less cumbersome. That platform should be launched soon. Once that basic groundwork is in place, we will market the scheme to the residents through awareness campaigns. We would also like to do more events inaugurating solar rooftop projects in Delhi.
How does the RESCO model work?
In the RESCO model the entire capital cost is borne by the developer. So, the customer does not pay anything upfront. He only pays for the energy used. That makes it a very simple model. On the other hand, the RESCO developer has to invest the money. The government bears the subsidy of 30 per cent of the capital cost. We are conducting workshops where financial institutions are discussing the model with developers so that they understand the model and financing becomes smooth. For the customers, we will give an additional GBI for three years of Rs 2 per unit. So, for the customer, the average price will be around Rs 2 per unit. This works very well for the discoms, too, as they will be able to meet their Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) and also take care of excess load during summer peak and avoid overloading of distribution transformers. This will, in turn, reduce the discom’s capex requirement and also the purchase of costly peak time power.
What is the current status of the proposal to allow penalising of discoms for unscheduled power cuts?
A discom compensation policy already exists but it has not been a workable one over time. The latest section 108 directive is to amend that policy. The regulation needs some business rules and the present directive is to get it working. The Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) is working on it.
What are the steps being taken by the Delhi government to increase use of electric vehicles?
A proposal for rolling out 1,000 electric buses has been approved by the Cabinet. The overall vision is that the replacement of the existing fleet would eventually be entirely on the electric side. At the same time, we are trying to move the last-mile connectivity, too, on the electric side. We already have e-rickshaws and DMRC has a last mile connectivity subsidiary that has just done some bids which will open in the next couple of weeks. That includes electric mini buses.
Do we have a proper policy in place for electric vehicles?
A draft policy is currently being finalised. That will include some rebate on road tax, rebates on registration charges etc. Also, we would like an incentive scheme for two-wheelers to make them commercially viable. A lot of progress has happened on two-wheeler side in the last six to eight months. We are in continuous conversation with two-wheeler manufacturers. They are coming up with swapping models.
What will be the hit to Delhi’s Budget as a result of these incentives?
It will not be too huge a hit. Of course, getting 1,000 buses will be a huge investment. We have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to allow us to utilise the Environment cess (Environment Compensation Charge or ECC) towards the purchase of 1,000 electric buses. The SC had directed that the cess be collected and the court will decide how it will be utilised. That is a Rs 1,000-crore kitty. The intention is not to purchase the buses upfront. It would be done on the same cluster model as the existing Orange buses.
Is there a timeline for the roll out for these buses?
We have already appointed a consultant for creating that road map and all other aspects including the Request for Proposal (RFP). We expect that report to be in place soon, maybe a couple of months. The roll out will happen from July 2019, if things go as per plan.
The SC recently pointed out that the govt should look at cost competitiveness of hydrogen fuel power buses as against electric buses. Are you working on that?
Indian Oil Corporation’s R&D division in Faridabad has worked out a pilot on hydrogen fuel-powered bus and that is working very well. It is a beautiful technology and they are setting it up for us in one of our bus depots — a pilot in the bus depots for our existing buses. It is already happening. We will see how it goes. The charging infrastructure will also be set up in the depots. That is one of the things the consultant has to tell us. There is enough space in depots. The only task is to ensure a substation is available for taking the feed. There are certain depots where the substation feed is readily available and at some places a new substation will have to be constructed. The timelines will be drawn according to that. The vendor will set up his own charging infrastructure in the depots.
What will be the cost of procuring these 1,000 buses?
Each of these buses is likely to cost around Rs 2 crore. We hope that we are able to pull the cost down. Also, we will see what the consultant advises us on the exact specifications. We will not be procuring the buses. The operator will procure the buses and operate them on our behalf — exactly like the cluster buses model. And if there is any subsidy requirement from FAME or any existing scheme, we will give that. And in case FAME subsidy is not available, we may have to give some kind of upfront subsidy from the Delhi government itself. That is where we think the ECC’s Rs 1,000 crore will come in handy. That is something we hope the consultant will tell us – which depot, which model of bus, what range will make the most financial sense etc. Some manufacturers require a larger range to become cost effective. We have to understand what works best for Delhi’s routes and overall transportation needs.
The Delhi Cabinet has just approved a solar farming scheme. What is the overall purpose?
The villages which are green in the master plan should continue to be green. So, we need to give the villagers and farm land owners an incentive to sustain farming. One of the ways to do that is to ensure they continue with farming and at the same time earn some more money. This can be done by putting solar panels at a height. The RESCO partner, who will install the solar panels, will be selected through bidding.