NEW DELHI: The prolonged heat wave and drought worries have an even darker lining.
Thermal power plants across the country are fast running out of coal. A massive blackout of the kind last seen in the grid collapse of August 2012 when 600 million people were left without electricity is now a possibility if nothing is done quickly.
Of the 100 power plants monitored by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), as many as 38 are left with only a week’s worth of coal to burn while 20 have as little as none to just 4 days of coal stocks, sources say.
A senior National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) official told Mail Today: “Currently, six of our coalbased projects, including two that supply power to the national capital, are critically short of coal. The reserve coal available at these projects is just for one day or even less.” The officer said that 23 of NTPC’s coal- based projects are running at full capacity but do not have adequate coal reserves.
Heat derived from burning coal is used to produce steam that moves turbines to produce electricity.
Most coal-based power plants keep at least a week’s worth of coal in reserve.
NTPC projects generate around 36,000 MW of power, which is sold for Rs 2.90 per unit to power distribution companies.
NTPC also has seven gas and solar based power units which have a power- generating capacity of 4,000 MW. An acute shortage of gas, however, means that NTPC’s gas- based projects presently run at half capacity, generating only 2,000 MW of power. Also, NTPC sells power at the much higher cost of Rs 5 per unit from its gas- based projects as a result of which many power companies hesitate to buy power from these projects.
The shortage of coal has arisen at a time when Delhi and the National Capital Region are battling the sweltering heat without power due to the breakdown in transmission facilities blamed primarily on the freak duststorm of May 30. CEA sources also reveal that there is a major problem in Northern Coalfields Ltd and the coal handling system has completely broken down. The belt on which coal is carried has been broken for days but still has not been repaired, sources say. This is hitting plants in Uttar Pradesh and some NTPC plants which supply to power to northern India, including Delhi.
Old bottlenecks have worsened the situation. The BJP- led government has reaffirmed its commitment to speeding up work on three railway lines— hamstrung by red tape and clearance delays — that are the key to transporting 100 million tonnes of coal per year from remote mines, an initiative that could boost Coal India Ltd’s production to generous levels.
Coal India Ltd controls about 80 per cent of India’s output. The work is to be done on a war- footing.
In the northern region which comprises power stations at Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, six power stations have less than seven days of coal stock left and three have less than four days of the fuel. There are a total of 26 power stations in the region.
Authorities are also monitoring supplies from the Northern Grid to states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to prevent a collapse similar to the one in August 2012 that had brought life to a halt for more than a day.
The situation is as dangerous in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra and in the central states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. As many as 16 power plants in these states have less than a week’s stock of coal while 10 plants are left with less than four days of stock.
A failed monsoon is the worstcase scenario. Power ministry officials agree that poor rains can potentially dry out reservoirs prompting hydro stations to cut down generation. This would lead to an increased dependence on coal-based power stations.
CEA sources say that the Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd is supplying only about two- thirds of what it can; the reason is a political agitation which has resulted in a massive law and order problem in the region. This has adversely impacted coal supply to power plants in the southern region that includes Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as well as southern parts of Maharashtra.
Power minister Piyush Goyal has declared there would be no blackout in the country's northern region. He has said the government is making adequate arrangements for supplying coal. “ This is a national problem, everybody is aware of it… the plants will not back down... we are making adequate arrangements for coal,” Goyal told reporters.
Officials also reveal that there is a very low output of coal from the South Eastern Coalfields Ltd because a row over a transportation contract that has already lasted two months. It is because of this that plants of NTPC and states in the western region are getting a reduced supply of coal.
The major effect is on Maharashtra, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh.
As many as nine power stations in the southern region— Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala—have reported less than seven days of fuel stock, of which three have less than 4 days of stock.