SCRAPPED ENRON PROJECT SEEN SIGN OF ASIAN RISKS

SCRAPPED ENRON PROJECT SEEN SIGN OF ASIAN RISKS

The scrapping of Enron Corp.'s power project in India highlights the political uncertainties facing independent power producers and will heighten investor competition in other Asian countries, power specialists said on Tuesday.

Competition is intense in other countries, said Daniel Goldman, associate director and manager of Arthur D. Little Inc.'s Asian practice. "If banks see that the India problem can spill over to other countries, clearly they will require higher premiums for funding," he said.The Hindu nationalist coalition government in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, which ousted the Congress Party in March, scrapped a 2,015- megawatt power plant being built by Enron in the state on grounds that it was too expensive.

The $2.8 billion project was India's single largest-foreign investment deal.

U.S.-based AES Transpower is having problems in a power project at an advanced stage of development in India's eastern state of Orissa. The new Congress state government is reviewing the project's cost.

AES Transpower has already spent $10 million to $20 million on groundwork for the $650 million project.

It had expected to start construction this year, J. Stuart Ryan, its Singapore-based president, said late on Monday.

"The price was fair and competitive at that time," Mr. Ryan said. "We are caught with projects conceived three, four years ago which are now not optimum in terms of location, size and technology. But we are willing to look at reconfiguring or modifying the project in such a way that can reduce the price of electricity to the Orissa Electricity Board."

Compared with India, Southeast Asia offers more to investors in terms of stability and predictability, a senior banker in power-project finance said.

"Everybody is in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines. For countries like Pakistan that have political risk, we would try to bring in multilateral institutions, like the World Bank, to lessen risks," the banker said.

Power producers are upbeat about Southeast Asia and Pakistan, which have straightforward electricity pricing systems and no heavy price subsidies, specialists said.

"Electricity is highly subsidized in India, where the price is less than the cost. The agricultural sector gets electricity for free," a power executive said.

Producers are also likely to go in more for smaller projects, experts said. Political uncertainties over projects stretching over four or five years would make smaller projects, taking less than one year to build, more attractive, they said.

"In many countries, 'small is beautiful,' " said Mr. Goldman of Arthur D. Little. "A small power project in the 50- to 300-Mw range is generally easier to get approved, faster to get financed and has less impact on electricity tariffs, which are generally below the cost of new capacity in most countries."

"The downside, however, is that small projects do not go very far toward meeting rapidly growing demand," Mr. Goldman said.