Written by: Promit Chakroborty
Over the past 10 months, a number of thermal power plants across the country are running with sub-optimum levels of fuel stocks due to inadequate supply of coal. The total number of plants running with critical (less than 5-7 days) and supercritical (less than 3-4 days) stocks have significantly increased in the January-May period of 2018, as compared to the same period of 2017 (see charts).
The plants in the Western region have been the worst hit, with their contribution to the All-India number hovering around 50 per cent, followed by the Northern region. On May 29, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to direct the Railways to provide rakes for transporting coal to power plants in Delhi-NCR, which are facing “alarming level” of coal shortage.
There are typically two demand peaks during the year — a summer peak around May-June and an all-India demand peak in October. The coal shortage situation has seen a sharp worsening during these peak demand phases.
The Railways has been facing issues in providing adequate coal supply to power plants. On January 22, Union power minister R K Singh called a meeting to review coal supply to power stations, wherein he had stressed on the need for efforts to be made by coal companies and Railways to improve coal supply to the power stations so that the power stations have sufficient coal stock to meet their requirement and build up their stock to normative level to avoid any shortage of coal during the next monsoon season i.e. June to September, 2018.” However, the number of plants that are operating with critical and supercritical stocks have steadily increased from January onward.
With summer in full flow and spot power prices reaching new heights due to huge demand, Centre is struggling to combat the coal situation. On May 18, 2018, Railway Board wrote to all its zones that “in view of the critical coal stocks with power plants, Ministry of Power has requested for granting of higher priority in loading of coal for power houses from goods sheds so as to facilitate higher supply of coal to power sector”. Railway Board stated that this higher priority of coal supply should be accorded till June 30. However, this decision to divert coal supply to independent power producers has been strongly opposed by Indian Captive Power Producers Association (ICPPA).