India May Defer Fines on $1 Billion Solar Thermal Plants

India plans to defer fines for solar- thermal power developers that failed to complete $1 billion of plants in time as it seeks to spur investment in the industry.

Reliance Power Ltd., Godawari Power and Ispat Ltd. and Lanco Infratech Ltd. are among companies that failed to finish seven projects totaling 470 megawatts by May because of a lack of water and equipment and financing problems, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Joint Secretary Tarun Kapoor said by phone.

Under contracts awarded in December 2010, the plants would pay about 2.3 billion rupees ($42.5 million) in late penalties.

“There’s obviously a problem since all are delayed,” Kapoor said in New Delhi. “This is the first time solar-thermal projects are being built in India and we want them to succeed.” A ministry panel is recommending a 10-month extension, he said.

Solar-thermal technology, which focuses sunlight on liquids to produce steam and is valued for its ability to store energy, has struggled to compete with cheap photovoltaic equipment that converts light directly into electricity. Areva SA scrapped an A$1 billion ($1 billion) complex in Australia in November after failing to raise funds. Photovoltaic panel prices have slumped.

A 50-megawatt Godawari project is the nearest to completion of the seven, and a 100-megawatt site owned by billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Power is about six months behind, Kapoor said.

Final Testing

The Godawari development is undergoing final testing and should be finished as early as this week, Siddharth Agrawal, the company’s project head, said today by phone. A major constraint was the lack of local parts, forcing Godawari to pay as much as 25 percent more to get foreign equipment on time, he said.

Delays in laying a water pipeline by Rajasthan state held up the Reliance operation, according to a March letter from the local government to Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah obtained by Bloomberg News. The ministry confirmed the letter. Nagraj Rao, a spokesman for Reliance Power, declined to comment. Officials in Rajasthan weren’t immediately available to comment.

Lanco Infratech is building a 100-megawatt plant and is the contractor for KVK Energy & Infrastructure Pvt.’s 100-megawatt project. Both suffered a shortage of heat-transfer fluid from U.S. suppliers and lower-than-expected solar radiation levels, Lanco Solar Chief Executive Officer V. Saibaba said by e-mail.

India, which has built 1,686 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity, expects to award a further 500 megawatts of solar-thermal capacity by 2017, Kapoor said, adding that the plans may be affected by the outcome of the plants under construction. The current projects, from 20 to 100 megawatts, use turbines from suppliers such as Siemens AG, General Electric Co. and Areva.

“It depends on how the technology behaves,” Kapoor said.

The cost of solar photovoltaic panels, which need batteries to store the energy they generate, have plunged 61 percent in the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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