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| Last Updated:17/07/2019

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Coal ministry primes power plants for summer demand


NEW DELHI | March 01, 2019: Coal inventory at power stations rose to 16 days operation and the number of plants with precarious inventory dropped 82% to just five on February 27 from 29 on October 31 last year, a move that will make ample power available to meet rising summer demand.


Top coal ministry sources told TOI on Friday state-run monopoly Coal India has indicated it will soon raise fuel stock at power stations to meet 20 days operation in preparation for summer spike in demand or meet unexpected shortfall in generation from hydel sources.


Rising stocks at power plants leave no excuse for discoms to resort to blackouts and avoid buying power when demand rises in summer. Under the ‘Power for All’ agreement with the Centre, states are to supply power 24X7 and the government is in the process of bringing in legal provision to penalise discoms for wilful blackouts to avaoid buying power.


The coal and railway ministries scrambled additional fuel supplies since October 2018 when stocks were low because of rain-delayed replensihments but power plants had to increase consumption to meet festival demand. The two ministries ramped up fuel supplies with a view to fulfilling not only the immediate need but to build up inventory for summer demand.


Available data indicate fuel supply by state-run Coal India, the mainstay of coal-fired power plants, increasing by over 7% to more than 407 mt in the April-January period against the same period of 2017-18. Despatch of railway rakes to power stations too has risen by 13% to 252 in the same period.


The record coal supply has helped power plants to replenish dwindling stockpile even after pumping up generation as electricity demand spiked 14% during the October festive season and continues to grow apace at 5-6%.


Available government data shows aggregate coal stock at power plants rising to over 25 mt (million tonne) on February 27, indicating an increase of 66% from 15.7 mt on February 28, 2018. In spite of a healthy rise in power demand, which also raises coal consumption by generation units, the number of ‘critical’ and ‘super critical plants has fallen to 5, indicating a drop of over 80% from 25 in the same duration.


According to the Central Electricity Authority, which monitors about 114 coal-fired plants, fuel stocks for less than seven and four days are tagged as ‘critical’ and ‘super critical’, resepctively, for power stations away from mines. For pithead plants, the stipulation is set at five and three days.


Coal ministry officials expected the supply situation to improve further due to re-opening of the Dhanbad-Chandrapura rail line, a key coal evacuation route, in Jharkhand. Adequate stockpile will allow the power stations to meet additional demand in summer, especially when hydel generation falls.