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NEW DELHI : Coal India Ltd (CIL) has been in the eye of the storm after fuel stocks at coal-fuelled power plants depleted in October. Fuel stocks since are being replenished.

In an email interview, Pramod Agrawal, chairman of world’s largest coal miner, spoke about scaling down of production by power plants which were reliant on costly imported coal, leading to domestic coal-fuelled power plants to step in. Agrawal, an IAS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, also spoke about a likely increase in prices of the fossil fuel and stated that coal would keep its leadership of the energy landscape for at least a decade-and-a-half despite the focus on clean energy.

What were the problems faced due to state generation companies (gencos), ramping down of generation by imported coal fuelled power projects and inadequate buildup of fuel stocks at power projects, specifically during the summer and monsoon?

Owing to high international coal prices, 14 imported coal-based power plants scaled down their generation to 28.24 billion units (BU) during April-October’21 compared to 44.96 BU in the same period a year earlier, which resulted in a generation fall of 37%. Domestic coal-based power plants had stepped in to meet the gap where CIL had supplied around 20 million tonnes of additional coal. Supply fluctuation during the monsoon is a normal seasonal trend which this year got amplified due to a sudden surge in power generation leading to unprecedented coal demand. In fact, our supplies to the power sector are at an all-time high so far. With improved supplies, 20 mt of coal stock has been built up at power plants so far, the bulk of it from CIL sources. We are targeting to boost the stocks further to adequate levels by the fiscal-end. Outstanding receivables are the only concern with state gencos.

What is the latest coal production and offtake data and trajectory for meeting annual production target of 670 mt for FY22?

As of November-end, our production was nearly 354 mt, logging 5.6% year-on-year growth. Realistically, we may close the fiscal with an output of 640 mt. On the off-take front, our supplies have taken a leap to 421 mt, which is an increase of 64 mt over last year same period, with a growth of 18%. If coal demand pans out favourably, we are aiming at 680 mt despatches by the fiscal year-end. We also plan to supply more than 540 mt of coal to the power sector which would be a record high.

What is the proposed action plan to meet growing demand for coal in the country, especially keeping in view the 1 billion tonne production target by FY24?

Scaling up coal production is imperative. Currently, coal demand is high and is likely to sustain in the future. Our plan to ramp up production includes close monitoring of 35 major projects which account for 70% of our entire production. To boost future production, we are pursuing MDO (mine developer and operator) mode and cleared 13 of 15 such greenfield projects having a combined capacity of 170 mtpa (million tonnes per annum). Global tenders have been floated for 10 projects. For the ongoing fiscal, nine coal mining projects having a total capacity of around 67 mtpa and incremental capacity of 37 mtpa have been green-flagged. This comes on the heels of highest-ever 36 coal mining projects cleared in FY21 which have a total capacity of approximately 333 mtpa. We are also in constant dialogue with state governments for land acquisition to expand our operations. All these efforts would push up our production.

Are we looking at a coal price hike soon? Any indication on how much it would be and other details.

It is likely to happen but to draw a timeline would not be possible. For the last four years, there has been no price increase but most of the input costs including diesel and explosives have increased. Despite this, our prices held steady. We are now reaching a level where to stay commercially viable, price increase is essential; when and how much would be a collective board decision. But the idea is we have to be adequately compensated and whatever the increase should take care of our Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). While protecting our bottom line, we will also consider the impact on price of energy in the country because coal price increase has an influence on various commodities. We will take all our stakeholders on board.

Coal is under fire from environmentalists. What would be coal’s standing in the energy mix of the country in future?

Environmental concerns revolving around coal are understandable and justified. We are sensitive to environmental protection in our production and transportation and are reducing CO2 emissions and particulate matter to the extent possible. However, the journey of coal is not going to end anytime soon, and it will continue to retain its energy leadership for at least a decade and half to come. Coal’s percentage in the energy basket may reduce with renewables and cleaner sources gradually filling up more, but in absolute terms coal’s contribution will be higher. Forcing out coal in the absence of alternative energy sources to replace its role is not a viable option. It is certain that at some point of time in future coal has to step down from the high pedestal that it currently occupies in the country’s energy hierarchy. But the big question is when. Till such time, coal is here to stay.

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