To combat the country’s growing power crisis, the government is pushing for a 10 per cent blending with imported coal and the revival of stressed power plants. Also on its priority list is the setting up of more renewable energy sources.
The ministry of power has asked government and private sector utilities to import 19 million tonnes of coal by the end of June.
The state-run NTPC and Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) are scheduled to bring around 3.2 million tonnes of imported coal for blending this month, said Alok Kumar, Union secretary for power. This is likely to push global coal prices up. In December 2021 the government had decided to increase the percentage of imported coal in the domestic mix from 4 per cent to 10 per cent.
The government is also trying to bring more imported coal-based power plants on track. Out of the 17,255 MW capacity of imported coal-based power plants, only around 10,000 MW is operational now. “We are hopeful that an additional 5,000 MW or so will come up in two to three weeks,” Kumar said.
The ministry of power has asked all imported coal-based plants to run at full capacity. Of the 173 thermal power plants, around 99 are running on critical coal stock or less than 25 per cent of their normative coal stock. As per the latest power ministry data, the total stock at pit-head and non-pit-head power plants in the country is only around 32 per cent of the normative stock.
The other measures taken to tackle the coal crunch include the revival of stressed or under-liquidation coal-based projects of around 7,150 Mw, for which it is in discussions with generators, lenders and states. “The government is trying to maximise coal production from Coal India, Singareni and the captive mines. In addition, thrust is being given on achi¬eving 10 per cent blending of imported coal,” Kumar said. Power ministry data reveals that a demand of 184,871 Mw is being met during peak hours, while the energy shortage is around 28 million units, and peak shortage is 1,074 Mw.
“For the power sector, a long-term sustainable model would be to improve the financial health of the distribution companies. This will help the import of coal too. The idea to revive stressed plants and imported coal-based units is good,” said Ashok Khurana, director-general, Association of Power Producers.
At present, power generation companies have dues of around Rs 106,800 crore from distribution companies. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra owe the most, with Rs 22,960 crore and Rs 19,828 crore, respectively.
Among the states, Haryana has expressed its willingness to acquire a stressed power plant to ensure adequate resources are available for the supply of power to consumers in the state. Kumar said that a possible roadmap has been chalked out regarding the stressed units after discussions with lenders and power plant owners.
The government is also pushing for the development of renewable energy assets to reduce the risks of coal shortage in future.
“We should have an integrated and balanced power basket. We should look at all options, including wind and solar, keeping coal as the base. Coal is required for round-the clock power. Since discom health is a major concern, we should look for consumer-level reforms immediately,” said Vivek Sharma, senior director at ratings and policy advisory company, CRISIL.
Since the non-availability of rakes has been cited as one of the reasons for the shortage in the supply of coal, the railways have cancelled 1081 trips, primarily in the South East Central Railway (SECR) region, till May 24.