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Amid rising power demand, coal stock at 57 plants ‘critical’

NEW DELHI: Coal stock at 57 thermal power stations representing about 21% of the country’s total generation capacity have become ‘critical’ or ‘super critical’ amid rising electricity demand, prompting the power ministry to regulate for a week fuel supply to plants that have stocks for 14 days so that inventories can be built up at the units facing a crunch.
Central Electricity Authority documents show five plants with ‘zero’ coal stock and running on daily supplies. Six plants have a day’s buffer stock, while 15 plants have inventories for three days, 13 plants for four days, four plants for five days, three stations for six days and two units have stocks to last a week. Industry executives blame the low fuel stocks on poor supply and lack of advance planning in anticipation of rising power demand. But Coal India Ltd, which accounts for 80% of domestic production, blamed the reduced inventories on generators failing to heed its advice given since October 2020 to stock up for summer and monsoon when electricity demand spikes.
A CIL executive told TOI the company supplied 196.6 MT (million tonne) of coal to the power sector in the April-August period, or 6.5% more than 184 MT in the same period of pre-pandemic 2019. “Coal stock at power plants was 24 MT at the end of July, almost at par with stocks in the previous five years. It could have been higher if generators had not regulated offtake,” the executive said.
The arguments indicate that no one prepared for the sharp rebound in power demand or put too much emphasis on renewables. Power demand rose at 8% and 12% in the third and fourth quarters of 2020-21 and continues, jumping 18% in July. As a result the average plant load factor of thermal plants too has risen above 60% from about 52% as hydel production came down.
Power Secretary Alok Kumar set up a core management committee with representatives of the power ministry, CEA and CIL for daily monitoring of the situation. A ministry statement said power plants have been asked to send requests for priority loading or supply issues at a centralised email id so that they can be addressed promptly.

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