Several Indian states have sounded an alarm of an impending power crisis with many shutting down thermal plants and effecting load shedding, in the face of the country experiencing an unprecedented shortage of coal.
India gets 70 per cent of its electricity from coal-powered thermal plants with a joint installed capacity of 209 GW.
According to latest data by the central grid operator, stocks in over half of India’s 135 coal-fired thermal power plants are down by just three days’ worth of fuel.
The Centre has pinpointed four reasons for the depletion in India’s coal reserves – unprecedented increase in demand for electricity, heavy rains which affected supply of domestic coal, increase in prices of imported coal and failure of plants to build coal stocks before onset of monsoon.
“There are four reasons for the depletion of coal stocks at the power plant end- unprecedented increase in demand for electricity due to the revival of the economy; heavy rains in coal mine areas during September 2021, thereby adversely affecting the coal production as well as despatch of coal from mines; increase in prices of imported coal to unprecedented high level leading to a substantial reduction in power generation from imported coal-based power plants leading to more dependence on domestic coal; non-building of adequate coal stocks before the onset of Monsoon,” the Union Ministry of Power said in a release on Friday.
States seek central aid
Now, states fear the demand for power will increase ahead of the festive season, triggering frequent power disruptions. The governments of Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Kerala among others have approached the Centre to send help while some of them effecting power cuts and others asking consumers to use electricity judiciously to handle the crisis.
Delhi’s power minister Satyendra Jain on Saturday said that power-generating plants in the national capital which usually have coal stock to last a month are down to one day, and warned of a blackout in the next two days if coal supplies at major thermal plants are not replenished.
He has urged the Centre to send coal wagons to the plants at the earliest. “All the plants are already running in only 55 per cent capacity,” he said.
Sounding the Centre of an alarming shortage of coal in the state, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has urged the government to enhance the supply according to the state’s quota. The Punjab State Power Cooperation Limited (PSPCL) has also request residents to “conserve power by switching off lights, devices and air conditioners when not required” while warning of a power cut for three to four hours. Other reports say PSPCL has already started implementing rotational load-shedding of three-four hours in several areas. There is demand for 9,000 MW of power in Punjab.
In Uttar Pradesh, as many as 14 power-generating plants have been shut down including eight due to depletion in coal supply. Authorities have also announced a power cut of four to five hours in select rural areas to handle the crisis. The state currently supplies 17,000 MV against a demand of 20,000-21,000 MV.
In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the five prominent thermal power plants have stocks of 3.8 days, prompting the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation to implement power cuts in some parts of the state on Friday. The state reportedly has briefed the Centre and Coal India Limited on the power situation. According to reports, it currently has stock of 2.63 lakh tonnes of coal compared to the normal stock requirement of 23 lakh tonnes.
With Andhra Pradesh also reeling from an acute shortage of coal, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy on Saturday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to send 20 rakes of coal to the state. Stating that Andhra Pradesh has seen a 15 per cent increase in demand for power in the past six months and 20 per cent in the past one month, Jagan requested Modi to revive the stranded/non-working pit-head coal plants in the country without the PPAs or revive coal linkage to ensure faster delivery of the fuel.
“There is an emergency need to supply deep-water well gas available with ONGC to the 2,300 MW stranded/non-working plants in AP and the deficit of nearly 500 MW from Central Generating Stations due to plant maintenance may be postponed,” he wrote.
He also urged the prime minister to give directions to banks to provide loans to Discoms to tackle the crisis.
Will the situation improve?
The Centre while delineating the key reasons behind the low coal stocks across the country, on Friday, said the crisis pinches the most as 70 per cent of power is India is generated from coal-fired thermal plants. It said the daily consumption of power has crossed 4 billion units.
“Power consumption for the period August-September has progressively increased from 106.6 BU per month in 2019 (normal non-COVID year) to 124.2 BU per month in 2021. During this period the share of coal-based generation has also increased from 61.91 per cent in 2019 to 66.35 per cent in 2021. As a consequence, total coal consumption in the month of August-September, 2021 has increased by 18 per cent in comparison to the corresponding period in 2019,” the Centre’s report said.
Reports, however, say the situation may improve with Coal India supplying around 1.501 MT of coal on October 7, and aiming to increase it to 1.7 MT in the next few days.
The Ministry of Power has also issued guidelines for the optimum utilization of power-generating stations as per the requirement in the electricity grid. Invoking the Tariff Policy, 2016, the ministry has asked power stations, which are not generating to their full capacity, to be available and dispatch supply at all times.