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Power crisis unravels fast, even as blame game continues

Against the daily requirement of about 22 million tonne of domestic coal for thermal power plants only 16.4 million tonne coal is available.

Coal shortage
On its part, the Centre is trying to increase the delivery of coal to power stations by cancelling passenger trains to ease movement of coal rakes.

Even as it’s increasingly clear that India’s power crisis is only turning worse with every passing day and it has started disrupting a nascent economic recovery, the key stakeholders are hamstrung. Many states are finding it difficult to step up their fuel purchases though the coal stocks with their power plants are depleting fast, owing to logistical and financial issues.

If the Centre is blaming some states, including Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, for “not living up to their commitments,” state governments say coal supplies to their power plants have been grossly inadequate in recent weeks; some are even going slow on coal imports, citing the prohibitively high landed cost of the fuel, at $250-290/tonne, four to five times the year-ago level.

Amid this imbroglio, power demand is breaking new records every day and so is the pan-India electricity shortage. The peak demand that was met rose to 207 giga watt (GW) on April 29, an all-time high, compared with 205 GW on April 28 and 183 GW a year ago. Electricity shortage, which crossed the threshold of 100 million units (mu) a day on April 12, skyrocketed to 214.12 mu as of April 29, the worst level ever. Peak shortage on the day too was very high at 8,120 MW.

There was some respite on both Saturday and Sunday, in line with trend, but the persisting heatwaves could only raise the power demand and widen the demand-supply gap in the coming days. The weather department predicts the mercury levels to remain high in the short term.

The Centre had earlier urged states to step up coal imports and use imported coal for 10% blending, with seamless pass-through of costs. Also, imported coal-based stations have been directed to source more fuel and raise their plant load factor. However, compliance with these directives have been low. Less than a quarter of the imports required to keep power supplies have been tied up by states.

Around 3,041 MW of imported coal-based (ICB) capacity remained shut last weekend, of the total installed ICB capacity of 20,296 MW. The average plant load factor of even the operational ICBs is around 25% now, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) data.

The ICB plants that are shut include Rattan India’s 1,350 MW Nashik unit, 350 MW Utkal plant of Ind Barath, and 246 MW Mahan unit of Essar. The PLF of total installed thermal capacity of 203,347 MW as of April 29 was 66.7%.

If payment delays across the value chain have been a norm in the power sector, the contingency steps to boost coal supplies have increased the defaults.

According to the official PRAAPTI portal, as on April 28, discoms owed Rs 1.06 trillion to gencos, of which the dues to IPPs were Rs 58,299 crore, while the dues to CPSEs stood at Rs 26,300 crore. Dues owed by the state power utilities to Coal India too have surged to close to Rs 8,000 crore, with Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu among the largest defaulters.

Delayed payment to gencos have constricted their cash flows to such an extent that they are not able to pay for coal on time, a situation that could potentially hamper their efforts to stock up.

The states with the highest peak shortage on Friday were Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. While Rajasthan reported the maximum energy shortage of 53.46 mu on Friday, it was closely followed by Haryana, which had a shortfall of 44.09 mu and Uttar Pradesh (29.54 mu) and Punjab (21.45 mu).

According to CEA, as on April 28, of the 173 thermal plants across the country, 108 had coal stock at ‘critical’ levels. Out of 150 thermal plants using domestic coal, those with critical coal stocks increased to 88 in one week. To put it simply, half of the thermal units had coal stocks of less than 7 days on April 28, which is barely a quarter of the normative requirement. In fact, actual coal stocks in more than 40 plants were less than 10% of the normative need.

At least 12 out of 15 plants using imported coal too are in the critical category. Most of them are disinclined to step up fuel imports coal, given the high prices.

In Uttar Pradesh, maximum demand on Saturday touched 23,000 MW, while availability was 19,366 MW. While average power cuts of around 8-10 hours are being reported, rural areas in the state have been bearing the brunt of the crisis, with most villages getting only 9 hours of power supply.

With inadequate coal stocks, the situation is grim in Tamil Nadu. The state energy department insists there won’t be power cuts for both industries and domestic consumers, but that would require purchase of spot power at high costs.

State power utility TANGEDCO is forced to import coal at high prices, for maintaining uninterrupted power supply. To meet the peak summer demand, TANGEDCO has floated a global tender to procure 0.48 million tonnes of imported steam coal through open e-tender under e-reverse auction and the fuel will be delivered in 20 days, UB Elini, director generation of TANGEDCO said. “We require 60,000 tonnes of domestic coal per day. Coal imports will help improve generation in the couple of months. We expect the wind situation to improve from June, so renewable projects will then take care of additional power requirements.”

On its part, the Centre is trying to increase the delivery of coal to power stations by cancelling passenger trains to ease movement of coal rakes.

According to an industry source, about 72,000 MW capacity have either been closed or operating at bare minimum levels during the latest power crisis due to non availability of fuel. Around 20,000 MW gas based plants are totally closed.

Against the daily requirement of about 22 million tonne of domestic coal for thermal power plants only 16.4 million tonne coal is available. In the northern region, 12 state-sector thermal plants out of 16 have coal stocks at critical levels, he added.

Technical issues have come in the way of the efforts to address the crisis. A senior UP power department official noted that as per CEA guidelines of 2012, the state-owned power plants are not fit to blend imported coal since the coal has high gross calorific value (GCV). Only 2 privately owned power plants — Reliance Power’s 1,200 MW Rosa plant and Bajaj Energy’s 1,980 MW Lalitpur unit — are fit for blending. The high GCV coal can create serious damage to the boilers and the plants if blended in an unspecified manner, the official said.

Though power demand in Gujarat witnessed an all-time high of nearly 21,000 MW last week, the state has not yet put power cuts across the sectors. Since the beginning of April, the state is witnessing power demand ranging from 19,000 MW to as high as 21,000 MW, said a senior official with the state energy department, adding, “We are giving electricity for at least 8-hours to the agriculture sector on a daily basis. There is no load shedding across the sectors. Gujarat is much more comfortable compared to other states due to its balanced energy mix – thermal, renewal, nuclear and hydro power.”

Gujarat Electricity Corporation Limited (GECL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the state electricity regulation board, is generating nearly 4,500 MW power out of its installed capacity of nearly 6,600 MW.

“Of the total 16,000 MW installed capacity, the state is receiving up to 7,000 MW from renewable energy sources. Nearly 4,000 MW is being supplied by NTPC. Around 700 MW comes from Nuclear Power Generation Corporation plants situated at Kakrapar and Tarapur. As per agreement, Tata Power and Adani Power too are supplying 1,800 MW and 2,400 MW to GUVNL,” said the official. Moreover, ACB India is supplying nearly 200 MW power from Chhattisgarh coal mines to GUVNL at cheaper rates, he added.

With inputs from Nayan Dave in Ahmedabad and Sajan C Kumar in Chennai.

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