Fuel supply to power stations from Coal India’s mines has risen 17% in September to 32 MT (million tonne) from 27.4 million tonne in the year-ago period as the government scrambled to meet spike in demand as a result of thermal power stations stepping up operations to meet shortfall from other sources.
According to the coal ministry’s monthly summary for the Cabinet, Coal India’s supplies to power stations was 6.8% higher at 205.5 MT in the April-September period than the previous corresponding period. Coal India is the anchor source for coal, accounting for 80% of supplies. The latest figures will, thus, come as a relief to the coal ministry, which has found itself on the defensive following low stocks at power stations across the country in spite of double-digit growth in Coal India’s production.
As TOI first reported on August 26, the spectre of coal shortage had returned to haunt power plants across the country after a gap of three years due to a combination of several factors. The Dhanbad-Chandrapura railway line was shut on safety fears just when Coal India was in the middle of reducing its pithead stocks by pulling back production. Next, unprecedented rains hit Central Coalfields Ltd production.
The situation was compounded by September as nuclear generation fell 36%, wind 14% and hydel 12%. Supplies from Bhutan also dropped. Naturally, this unmet demand shifted to coal-fired plants, a fact supported by Central Electricity Authority data showing 17% growth in thermal generation in August. As thermal plants operated at 58% capacity in August against 51.59% in the year-ago period, coal demand spiked by 20 million tonne.
This spike coincided with power stations drawing down coal stockpiles by half in February to reduce inventory costs as timely supply had become the new normal. Just when stocks were pared to about 11 days or less, the sweaty season demand spiked in August and coal supplies got disrupted. Even as coal supplies are rising, the switching of load from other sources put power station back to square one.