Move meant to overcome fuel shortage at thermal plants; will also save on freight costs.
With coal shortage at power stations leading to generation losses at frequent intervals (in January, state-run NTPC had complained to the power ministry about critical fuel shortage at four of its plants), the government has come out with a permanent solution to the issue: Coal India will, over the next five years, acquire enough railway rakes to transport coal to all thermal power stations in the country, without having to wait for the railways to make the container trains available to it.
Currently, around 260 rakes a day are used by CIL for coal transportation, all on rent. It is estimated that CIL would need 288 rakes a day to meet the country’s electricity generation targets in 2018-19. CIL pays the railways Rs 35,000 crore annually as freight, a cost borne finally by its consumers. Once the rakes are owned by the company, the freight bill will reduce drastically as only track rents will need to be paid to the national transporter.
Shortage of railway rakes for coal transportation has been one of the major reasons behind the supply shortage. In order to improve supply of coal to power plants, the government had earlier asked electricity generation units located within 60 km from the mines to build covered conveyor belt systems for coal transportation.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, the minister for railways and coal Piyush Goyal said with allotment of 11 more mines to CIL recently, the entire coal demand from the power sector in 2018-19 — estimated by the power ministry at 615 million tonnes in FY19 — would be met.
As on February 11, 113 power plants with coal linkages monitored by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had coal stocks that were sufficient to sustain for only 10 days. Stocks at thermal power plants across the country had suddenly fallen in August-November, with the surge in demand from some power stations, including a few of NTPC. That wind, nuclear and hydel plants with a combined capacity of 4 gigawatts were not able to generate power due to climatic and maintenance issues aggravated the crisis.
Earlier in the day, power minister RK Singh, at a separate event, had said inadequate supply and mining of coal as the main constraint in raising the power generation.
In a letter dated January 12 addressed to the secretary of the power ministry, Gurdeep Singh, CMD, NTPC, said the supply shortage “is leading to generation loss on account of coal”. Cumulative generation loss at the power plants of NTPC and its joint ventures reached 10.6 billion units, Singh had said.
As on January 11, NTPC power plants at Mauda (2,320 MW), Farakka (2,100 MW), Kahalgaon (2,340 MW), Simhadri (2,000 MW) and Solapur (660 MW) had coal stocks that were not even sufficient to sustain for a day. The situation has since improved.
Meanwhile, New Delhi is also exploring the option of selling “cheap power” to its South Asian neighbours and Myanmar on a long-term basis and wants state utility NTPC to expand overseas.
“Indian companies such as Reliance Power and Adani Power have already signed agreements to supply power to Bangladesh, where New Delhi is fighting for influence with China. India also sells some electricity to Nepal and Myanmar, but power minister RK Singh said it could sell more,” Reuters reported.