From Jhajjar to Farakka, new to old, fuel shortage hits 130 power units
There are two aspects of the widening gap between demand of coal for power plants and its supply. The first is the sharp increase in project commissioning in the past three years of the current Plan period. The second is the near stagnant coal production.
“With the power sector growing at 8 per cent, and coal output at less than 3 per cent, a blackout was simply inevitable,” an executive with a private power firm, whose three projects are badly affected due to want of fuel, said.
Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that against a projected requirement of 742 million tonnes of thermal coal by the end of the Twelfth Plan (April 2012-March 2017), only 527 million tonnes of domestic coal is likely to be available. This translates into a shortfall of 215 million tonnes or 29 per cent of the total requirement by 2017. Among those most worried are private players, who are slated to set up nearly 60 per cent of the capacity coming up in the Twelfth Plan period.
Here are four major plants on the power map of India affected by the shortfall. They typify the struggle for coal that 51 running thermal units are grappling with, and another 80 upcoming ones are staring at, across the country:
* Indira Gandhi Super Thermal Power Project, Mahatma Gandhi Thermal Power Project
Jharli, a 35-km, partially bone-rattling ride from the heart of dusty Jhajjar town, looks like just another sleepy outpost in Haryana’s eastern periphery. With a significant difference — it is the site of two mega power projects, pitched right opposite each other on a narrow state road, that are in various stages of commissioning. Both are big, based on domestic coal, but facing an equally massive coal shortage.
The 1,500 MW Indira Gandhi Super Thermal Power Project is being executed by joint venture firm Aravali Power, floated by NTPC Ltd, Haryana and Delhi. It was to get coal linkage of 6.94 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) allocated from Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd, a Coal India Ltd subsidiary. “We are getting about half that amount,” said an NTPC official. “Of that, half of what comes in is just sand, stones and boulders. The irony is that the consignment, much of it just waste, is transported over 1,500 km, for which the consumer will be billed.”
Bang opposite, the 1,320 MW Mahatma Gandhi Thermal Power Project, which was bagged through competitive bidding by CLP Power India in July 2008, was promised coal linkage of 5.21 mtpa from CCL, another Coal India arm. Power from this project was to be made available from January 2012. Till a couple of weeks back, the developers were still in the process of aggregating coal for testing, to maintain at least seven days’ continuous operations.
* Farakka Super Thermal Station, Kahalgaon Super Thermal Station
Two projects that were perennially short on coal through whole of last year were NTPC Ltd’s 2,340 MW Kahalgaon station in Bihar and the 2,100 MW Farakka station in West Bengal. The irony is that while Kahalgaon is located right on the pithead (at the coal mine itself, so that there is no need to transfer the coal to the plant), Farakka is not too far. And both are among stations that form the backbone of the eastern region’s generation sector.
While the Farakka station has infrastucture in place to operate at over 90 per cent plant load factor, the utility is mostly operating at only 70 per cent because of the short supply of coal. The shortfall in domestic supplies is being made up by imports, which, in turn, jacks up tariffs.
The problem here is that most coal reserves in the east are located in Maoist-infested areas. A senior government official says that the entire coal mining value chain in the eastern region is ridden with trade unionism and gangs who pilfer coal, especially from easy targets that include public sector firms or smaller private power producers.
The head of a mid-sized state-owned generation firm has repeatedly been complaining about local Coal India employees colluding with middlemen to siphon off his fuel. “The coal mafia is strong and there is absolutely no guarantee that coal will reach the designated consumer, despite assurances from Kolkata (where Coal India is headquartered) or New Delhi,” the official says.
With the coal crisis showing little sign of a resolution, despite the Prime Minister’s intervention, utilities across the country have been instructed to make design changes in all future coal-fired projects to enable higher imported coal blending. However, running power plants on imported coal involves an entirely different challenge.