Change-in-law Payments Would Be a Rs4,000 Crore Booster for Solar Sector: Report
Moneylife Digital Team 04 August 2020
Recent commencement of change-in-law-payments by state power distribution companies (discoms) and Solar Energy Corp of India (SECI) for goods and services tax (GST) to solar power projects, comes as a shot in the arm for the sector with monetary benefits, says a research report. 
In a report, ratings agency CRISIL says, "Together with safeguard duty (SFD) reimbursements, which also qualify under ‘change in law’, the payments will lead to Rs4,000 crore cash inflow for the sector. This can restore project returns by as much as 220 basis points (bps) and is positive for credit quality."
Last year, CRISIL had said that the imposition of SFD on import of solar cells and modules had increased the implementation cost of about 5.4 giga watt (GW) projects by as much as 15% and compressed the returns of developers by 160 bps. Add to this the hike in GST levy on modules and balance of the plant, and returns reduced by a further 60 bps, it had said.
While Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) was quick to recognise the SFD imposition as a change-in-law event, uncertainty prevailed over the timeliness and mechanism of its reimbursements.
"Now, counterparties including SECI and discoms such as Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MahaDiscom) have started making payments towards GST reimbursements for their respective projects. To ensure returns don’t diminish because of delays in payment, the reimbursement is in the form of 13-year annuity and also factors in a carrying cost of 10.4% on a retrospective basis, in line with the CERC’s latest tariff orders," the ratings agency says.
According to Manish Gupta, senior director of CRISIL Ratings, these annuity flows are not conditional upon project performance and receipt of payments by central counterparties from the underlying discoms. "This lends more stability to these cash flows and supports the credit quality of these projects," he added.
The ratings agency feels that commencement of GST reimbursement would pave the way for similar disbursements towards SFD (75% of overall change in law payouts) where the payment mechanism is also established on similar lines and is awaiting submission and verification of cost documents by developers. This, it says, strengthens the sectors’ outlook as, apart from claw-back of returns, it yet again demonstrates upholding of contractual terms in line with power purchase agreement.
These developments come on the back of continued regulatory support, such as the ministry of new and renewable energy’s memorandum upholding the ‘must-run’ status of renewable energy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and extension of completion timelines for under-construction projects by the authorities in view of the lockdown. 
Earlier SECI also abolished the tariff caps and continued to expand its presence as aggregator, protecting developers from being directly exposed to weak state discoms.
Ankit Hakhu, director of CRISIL Ratings says, “Demonstration of such regulatory support has helped lower the two critical risks the renewables sector faces – weak state counterparties and contractual uncertainties -- and has been pivotal in upholding the sector’s resilience during the pandemic. This will need to continue for a stable credit outlook for renewables sector to be maintained.”
After 30 June 2018, SFD was implemented on import of solar cells and modules from China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Earlier, from July 2017, GST was levied on solar cells and modules at 5%. However, solar projects which were awarded or auctioned prior to these dates were not supposed to pay these duties and taxes as these did not exist at the time of their bidding. These additional payments were classified under change in law from time of bidding and made eligible for reimbursement.
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