Competition and Choice in Electricity Distribution in India

By Daljit Singh
29 August 2016

Introduction of competition and providing consumers choice of supplier have been two of the main aims of reform of the electricity sector in India. This paper examines the experience with three measures to fulfill these aims: (1) open-access to the transmission and distribution system; (2) allowing multiple distribution licensees in an area; and (3) proposed Electricity Act Amendments (EAA) for separation of carriage and content in the distribution system for electricity. Open access and multiple distribution licenses have not been very successful for two main reasons. First, there is a mismatch between the perspective of the Centre and the States; the Centre has a long-term perspective focused on competition and efficiency while the States are concerned about more immediate issues of protecting the discoms’ revenues and maintaining affordable tariffs. Second, incomplete and/or faulty legislation and regulations have resulted in ad-hoc rule-making and the Courts having to step in to fill the legislative and regulatory gaps. Two particularly significant examples are: (1) provision in the Electricity Act allowing multiple distribution licensees in the same area that has led to duplication of resources and high tariffs for consumers in Mumbai; and (2) the lack of comprehensive regulations defining the relationship between discoms and open access consumers that has led to difficulties for discoms in managing load swings and in power procurement planning; development of model regulations would be useful. The paper also identifies difficulties in achieving retail competition due to fragmented fuel markets, and suggests ensuring effective wholesale competition first. The proposed framework for separation of carriage and content in EAA is very cumbersome and may not achieve the stated goals. In addition, there are concerns about the impact on small consumers and the finances of the provider of last resort. The implications of EAA should to be thought through more thoroughly before implementation.

Suggested citation
Singh, Daljit. 2016.  ‘Competition and Choice in Electricity Distribution in India’, Working Paper, Initiative on Climate Energy and Environment, New Delhi. Centre for Policy Research.

For further information on the paper, please contact Daljit Singh at daljitss@gmail.com