Power, fertilizer sectors may get subsidised gas rates

While producers will get a price determined by the Rangarajan formula, user industries of power and fertilizer may get gas at lower price with government subsidising the difference.

While defending the hike in natural gas prices from $4.2 mbtu to $8.4 mbtu, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Friday hinted at subsidised gas rates for the power and fertilizer sectors to protect consumers from a huge financial burden from April next year.

Briefing journalists here about the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) to hike gas prices based on the Rangarajan Committee formula from April 1, 2014, Mr. Chidambaram said the move to almost double the gas prices was taken in view of the dramatic decline in investments in the oil and gas sector. This had to be made up by importing expensive Liquefied Natural Gas.

Time till April

The recent gas price hike may not necessarily lead to a corresponding increase in power and fertilizer prices, said Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

“At the moment we are fixing only output prices, the price payable to gas producers,” Mr. Chidambaram said. “This will indeed have an impact on the consumer, but those prices are not being fixed today. The price that power and fertiliser companies will pay for is not being fixed now. What is the price at which it should be supplied to a power plant, to a fertilizer plant in order to make power affordable, fertilizer affordable… that can still be decided between now and April 1.” He said the government was conscious of the need to keep power and fertilizer prices low. “It could be tweaking prices or it could be bearing an additional subsidy. There are various methods but at the moment we are not addressing those issues.”

The CCEA meeting that approved the new pricing took an unusually long time and saw Ministers raising objections. According to the Rangarajan formula, valid for five years, gas rates will change every quarter based on cost of imports and international hub rates. The Power and Fertilizer Ministers had vehemently opposed the hike stating that it would lead to the cost of generating electricity spiking to Rs. 6.40 per unit from Rs. 2.93.

Mr. Chidambaram said, in the absence of remunerative prices, no investment had been made in domestic exploration and production, resulting in a fall in natural gas production from 143 million standard cubic metres per day in 2010-11 to 111.44 mmscmd in 2012-13. This in turn meant a sharp rise in imports of LNG which was expensive.

Imported gas price was three times the domestic gas rate and importing gas was unsustainable for the Indian economy. “The choice is to live without gas or to produce gas because the third alternative to import is simply not sustainable,” he said.

The new price will apply uniformly to all producers, be it state-owned companies like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) or Reliance Industries Limited, he added.


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