No crisis, government says, as Indian power plants run short of coal

NEW DELHI: Panic over imminent power shortages is unnecessary, the Indian government said on Sunday, following reports from several states that coal stocks at power plants have dropped to critically low levels.

Authorities and power companies in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Delhi have been appealing to consumers for the past few days to use electricity “judiciously” amid limited coal supplies.

India is heavily dependent on thermal power plants. Coal accounts for 70 percent of India’s electricity generation. “Neither was there, nor is there any crisis,” Power Minister R.K. Singh told reporters after a government meeting. “The panic has been unnecessarily created and the country has four days’ reserves.

“We have sufficient power available. We are supplying power to the entire country. Whoever wants, give me a requisition and I will supply them,” he added.

Addressing concerns from the national capital territory, Singh said “Delhi will continue to get supply and there will be no load shedding.”

The announcement came a day after the chief minister of the national capital territory, Arvind Kejriwal, took to social media to say Delhi, home to 20 million people, “could face a power crisis.”

Tata Power, one of the main electricity suppliers in the northern part of Delhi, sent text messages to its customers on Saturday, saying that “the power supply scenario between 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. is at critical level” due to “limited coal availability in generation plants.”

The northern state of Punjab, meanwhile, went into panic mode on Saturday, with the Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd. asking customers to “conserve power by switching off lights, devices and air conditioners when not required.” The state is now resorting to load-shedding of three to four hours a day.

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In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Jagan Reddy wrote in a letter to the central government on Friday that the southern state needed an “urgent allotment of coal and revival of defunct coal-fired power plants,” as its power demands have risen by 20 percent since September.

While the government urged people not to panic, the Power Ministry admitted on Saturday that Asia’s third largest economy is facing an “unprecedented” increase in demand for coal for electricity generation, as its coronavirus-closed economy is currently reopening.

“Heavy rains in coal mine areas, increase in the prices of imported coal, nonbuilding of adequate coal stocks before the onset of monsoons are four reasons for the depletion of coal stocks,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the whole country registered an increase of 18 percent in coal demand between August and September, compared with the corresponding period in 2019.

India imports coal mainly from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa. “The imported coal price of Indonesian coal jumped from $60 per ton in March 2021 to $160 per ton (in September/October 2021),” the ministry said.

Some experts say the coal shortage India is currently facing is also due to its current power policy moving from fossil fuels to clean energy generation.

“The present thrust is to promote solar and other forms of energy produced from non-fossil fuel,” Dr. Arup Roy Choudhury, former head of the National Thermal Power Co., India’s largest producer of thermal power, told Arab News. “Coal-based power is no longer on the priority list.”

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