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NEW DELHI : Coal supplies to India’s power plants will be increased to 2.2 million tonnes (mt) daily to help fuel stocks reach 10 mt by Deepawali, from the present levels of around 7.5 mt. This decision was reached in a meeting on Tuesday of coal minister Pralhad Joshi, power and renewable energy minister Raj Kumar Singh, and railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, two government officials aware of the development said.

The depleted coal stocks at power plants have been fuelling concerns about a possible electricity shortage, as coal-powered projects totalling 202.22 gigawatt (GW) account for more than half of India’s power generation capacity.

“Held virtual meeting with Ministers @AshwiniVaishnaw ji & @RajKSinghIndia ji, along with officers of @CoalMinistry, CMDs & officials of coal companies. We discussed improving coal stock at thermal power plants & resolved our commitment to fulfill energy demands of the country," Joshi said in a tweet.

The 2.2 mt of coal supplies will be secured every day from all domestic sources, including state-run Coal India Ltd (CIL), Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd (SCCL), and captive coal mines. The coal supply to power plants was 1.92 mt on Monday and had touched 2 mt each on 11 and 12 October.

With power plants burning 1.85 mt-1.87 mt of coal every day to generate electricity, the playbook is to stock 3 lakh tonnes per day, resulting in an addition of 3 mt fossil fuel stock over 10 days. Also, with lower electricity demand expected in November, the plan is to build up an additional stock of around 6 mt next month, taking the total fuel stock to 16 mt by the end of November.

“The ministers of coal, power, and railways reviewed the situation today. The railways will provide more rakes and moving coal is not a problem. A breather is expected by Deepawali once the fuel stocks reach the 10 mt mark," said one of the two officials mentioned above.

Queries mailed to the spokespersons of the ministries of coal, power, and railways late on Tuesday night were not answered till press time.

India’s 135 coal fuelled power projects totalling 165.066 GW had four days of stock, as on Monday, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). Of these, 119 coal projects totalling 129.86 GW had four days of stock and 16 plants located near coal mines totalling 35.2 GW capacity have five days of fuel stock.

India’s daily electricity consumption has crossed 4 billion units , resulting in a 18% spike in coal consumption during August-September 2021 compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

Fuel stocks at India’s power plants had depleted to 7.3 mt on 7 October and 8 October. In 2018-19, the fuel stocks had also fallen to 10.1 mt at power projects. The daily coal offtake from CIL mines is expected to be ramped up as there more workers are available at the coal fields after Durga Puja.

“While the plan is to supply 2.2 mt from 24 October, we are trying to increase the volume of supplies from 22 October itself. There has been more dispatch than there was consumption at power plants over the past few days during Durga Puja celebrations, including Dussehra. The stock is gradually being built up," said a government official cited above requesting anonymity.

The primary reason for the sharp depletion of fuel stocks at power plants has been the ramping down of generation by 14 imported coal-fuelled power projects because of the spike in global coal prices, according to CIL. This resulted in electricity demand being serviced from domestic coal fuelled power projects, leading to an unplanned need for 10 mt of coal from CIL, thus reducing the stock at power plants to around 7 mt.

“We are in the process of recovery. A fuel stock position of 10 mt is hopefully expected by end October. We are making all-out efforts for this," said the official cited above.

The coal shortage has coincided this year with a sharp spike in electricity demand, growth in number of electricity consumers, and inadequate stocking up by power projects before the monsoon. Also heavy rains in September impacted coal production and dispatch and non-payments of coal dues also contributed towards inadequate supply.

India has the world’s fourth largest reserves and is the second-largest producer of coal. While CIL’s annual production target is 660 mt for the current financial year, the coal off take is expected to be 740 mt. Around 39 mt is available at CIL mines for transportation to power plants.

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