Coal situation worsens at thermal stations

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Chinese demand eating into imports

Anil Sasi

New Delhi, May 8 Coal reserves at power stations have hit a record low.

Nearly a third of the country’s thermal stations are now reported to be facing “critical stocks”, where coal stocks are expected to last less than seven days.

Of the 77 thermal stations in the country, 25 have now been bracketed as having “critical stocks”, of which 13 are reported to be “super critical”, with precariously low levels of coal stocks of under four days, according to the Government’s latest data on coal stock positions at power stations (up to May 5).

While a coal shortage has been brewing since the beginning of last year, domestic production is unlikely to be ramped up significantly in the near future. The import option is increasingly getting tougher as China, which is also facing low domestic reserves and acute power shortage, has stepped up coal purchases internationally.

Global price rising

The resultant rise in the global spot prices of coal, which have shot up to over $140 per tonne in Australia and above $125 per tonne in South Africa, could further stymie plans by Indian utilities to use imported coal to tide over shortages.

NTPC, which has 15 coal-fired stations, has already reported loss of generation in four stations due to coal shortages last fiscal, with the Farakka’s plant load factor dipping 4.66 per cent, and Kahalgaon, Talcher and Vindhyachal stations reporting partial outages.

Import plan

“We are currently managing on a day-to-day basis at some stations. A decision has already been taken to double imports to 5 million tonnes in 2008-09,” an NTPC official said.

Stations currently facing “super-critical” stocks include a number of super-thermal stations, including NTPC’s Ramagundam, Kahalgaon and Farakka stations.

Lower coal production by Coal India Ltd, higher than anticipated power generation at some stations and unloading constraints at others, combined with lower imports, have compounded the problem further.

Thermal stations are normally expected to hold coal stocks of between 15 and 30 days, with pithead stations expected to have stocks of 15 days or more, while others are expected to have stocks of 21-30 days.

Related Stories:
Thermal units set to get less coal supplies
NTPC may spend more on overseas coal assets
NTPC using western port for importing coal to eastern region

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 9, 2008)
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