An acute shortage of coal is keeping power plants on tenterhooks as bottlenecks in mining, delayed rail movement and costly imports are posing a major challenge to step up output and avoid the kind of grid collapse that had left 600 million people in the country without electricity last month.
According to the latest figures of the Central Electricity Authority of India, as many as 31 power plants have "critical" level of coal stock ranging from four to seven days as against the normal level, which lasts between 20 and 30 days to ensure smooth generation of electricity.
Seven of these power plants with coal stock at critical levels, including the Dadri plant of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Rosa Power plant of Reliance Power, are in the northern region Senior NTPC officials confirmed that it is a "hand-to-mouth situation" at these plants as far as coal stock is concerned.
The Dadri plant is about 1,000 km away from coal mines and delays in rail movement often lead to depletion of stocks. The Railways has been overburdened with passenger trains due to political reasons leading to congestion on tacks, which has slowed down freight movement.
Since express trains such as Shatabdi, Rajdhani and others get priority over goods trains, movement of coal is held up. The fact that the Railways do not have adequate time or funds for maintaining track network also leads to derailments which slow down the movement further.
Interestingly, several power plants located in close proximity to coal mines also have extremely low or critical stock. These 'pithead' plants include NTPC's plants at Rihand and Singrauli in the northern region.
Similarly, the Talcher thermal plant in Orissa and the Farakka plant in West Bengal are also located at pitheads but are being forced to operate with low stock. According to sources, the problems have arisen because of flooding of mines in these areas.
While some plants are importing coal, its high price coal in the international market
is posing a major challenge. Besides, congestion at ports also leads to delays. A senior NTPC official told Mail Today that the public sector company imports about 10 per cent of its coal requirements. "We cannot exceed this imports limit as electricity is supplied at fixed tariffs. If we cross the limit, the power generated would not be economically viable," the official said.
Leading economist and member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council M. Govinda Rao told MAIL TODAY that the shortage coal is a major challenge in the way of generating more power and this in turn adversely impacts the economic growth rate.
Infrastructure bottlenecks are compounding the problems as both rail and road networks require more investment to ensure speedier movement of goods, Rao added. "Similarly, there is heavy congestion at the ports, which slows down the movement of imported coal."
Courtesy: Mail Today