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Coal shortage plagues power utilities

Vandana Gombar Ayyagary  |  New Delhi 

Coal availability has become a serious concern for power-generating utilities this year. An increasing number of plants find their coal stocks running at "critical levels" or insufficient to last even for seven days of generation.
In the last two months, 11 of the 75-odd power stations tracked by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had coal stocks at "critical levels". Compared to this, just 3-4 stations were at a critical stock level in the same period last year.
However, remedial measure have averted an "actual generation loss due to shortage of coal," says a CEA official.
Power stations with coal stocks at "critical" levels
Month 2006 2007
January 4 13
February 3 11
March 1 4
April 3 7
May 2 10
June 3 11
July 4 11
Source: Central Electricity Authority
Ideal stock levels range from 15-30 days depending on the distance from the supply source "" a pithead plant should have coal stocks to last 15 days while a plant, which is over 1,000 kilometres away from the supply source, should have stocks for 30 days.
Though there are various reasons for stocks running low like labour strike, shortage of rakes, financial problem and unloading constraints, the main reasons are two "" less than allocated receipt of coal and higher utilisation of the thermal plants.
For April-June, for example, the all-India plant load factor was 81.8 per cent against a lower target of 78.6 per cent.
While increasing load factors push up the demand for coal, power plants are not even getting the coal that they have been allotted.
In July, for example, while 29.54 million tonnes were allotted to the coal plants (through the linkage system), the receipt of coal was 25.34 million tonnes, or 86 per cent of the allocation.
Power industry officials expect the situation to ease shortly as generation from hydro perks up post-monsoons and demand eases after summer.
Demand will, however, rise again as will capacity utilisation. "The long term solution to the problem is the increase in imports," said the official.
Coal imports have already been on the rise in the last few years, as demand has outpaced supply of coal. Import of non-coking coal (which is used in power plants) went up from 12 million tonnes in 2004-05 to 21.70 million tonnes in 2005-06.
The imports in 2006-07, yet to be finally estimated, are likely to be in the region of 23-24 million tonnes.

First Published: Thu, August 23 2007. 00:00 IST