Saturday, August 9, 2008

Power crisis looms large as key thermal stations starve for coal

The Hindu Business Line : Power crisis looms large as key thermal stations starve for coal
Power crisis looms large as key thermal stations starve for coal

Overall coal shortage situation at an all-time high.

Anil Sasi

New Delhi, Aug 8 The coal shortage situation that has been brewing across the country’s thermal power stations has taken a turn for the worse, with at least six major thermal power stations across the country reporting that they have run out of coal stocks.

Of these, four stations – the 2000 MW Singrauli, the 2,600 MW Ramagundam, the 3,000 MW Talcher and 1,840 MW Kahalgaon – are operated by state-owned NTPC Ltd, which has communicated to the Centre that the utility is being forced to generate power based on day-to-day coal supplies at its plants and that some of its larger power stations could be shutdown if the situation does not improve fast.

The overall coal shortage situation across the country is at an all-time high, with 44 of the 77 thermal stations in the country reporting “critical stocks” required for below a week’s operations, of which 24 have supercritical stocks of under four days.
Low production

The shortages, according to the power utilities, are on account of a lower coal production by Coal India Ltd, mainly with excessive monsoon rains throwing production schedule out of gear at several coal fields, especially those in the eastern region. Higher than anticipated power generation at some stations and unloading constraints at others, combined with low levels of coal imports, have compounded the problem further. Besides, low coal supplies to its Farakka and Kahalgaon plants has been due to consistent break down of the coal handling system and non-operation of silos.

“We are forced to regulate generation based on day-to-day coal supplies and most of out key stations are facing the threat of closure. We have already asked for the Government’s intervention in directing Coal India Ltd to take action quickly or we are headed towards a major power crisis,” an NTPC official said. On August 5, for instance, NTPC’s generation at 500 million units was down by over five per cent, while Damodar Valley Corporation’s (DVC) thermal generation over 36 per cent below that target set for the day due to coal shortages, according to latest data.
Tougher Imports

To worsen matters, the import option for the country’s utilities is increasingly getting tougher as China, which is also facing low domestic reserves and acute power shortage, has stepped up coal purchases internationally. 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, is further styming plans by Indian utilities to use imported coal to tide over shortages. According to official sources, NTPC has been unable to make any substantial coal imports in April and May despite the looming shortage situation.

Power utilities in the Northern and the Eastern region have been worst affected by the coal shortages. Besides NTPC stations, the other utilities that have been badly hit include Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Company Ltd (the 1,260 MW Dr N Tata Rao and 840 MW Rayalaseema thermal stations) and DVC’s 340 MW Durgapur and West Bengal SEB’s 450 MW Bandel station are among those that have run out of coal stocks.

Thermal stations are normally expected to hold coal stocks of between 15 and 30 days, depending on the location of the project. While pithead stations should hold stocks of 15 days or more, stations located away from the mine are expected to hold coal stocks for 21 to 30 days.

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