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Friday, December 2, 2011

Spot power rates zoom as coal stations face dwindling stocks

Rates go up Rs 5/unit in South, Rs 4 in the rest of the country

Coal shortage is beginning to reflect in the spot electricity rates, which have risen steadily to an average of around Rs 5 per unit in the Southern region and close to Rs 4 per unit in the rest of the country.

Tuesday's peak electricity rates on the IEX — the country's largest power exchange — were recorded at Rs 9 in the South and close to Rs 6 in the other parts of the country, as coal supplies to the sector, manifested in terms of the fuel stocks at key coal-fired stations, are slipping again after a mild recovery in the middle of last month.

Government estimates suggest a cumulative generation loss of over 5 billion units during the first seven months of the current fiscal. This was mainly on account of the inadequate availability of coal, which is beginning to show up in the steadily climbing spot power rates. Latest estimates released suggest that nine stations are left with a day's stock or less.Incidentally, the data for November 20 – the latest date for which the coal stock position has been made available – show that the coal stock position is the worst since the beginning of last month. While excessive rains in Coal India Ltd's coal fields and workers' strike at Singareni Collieries were largely responsible for triggering the recent coal shortage situation, law and order problems in the Central Coalfields Ltd and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd, inadequate crushing capacity at mines and less transportation of coal from mines to railway sidings have aggravated the problem.

The worsening fuel position comes after a brief blip in the middle of last month, when coal stocks showed signs of recovering at power stations. This was at a time when the Coal Ministry had claimed that coal companies had been asked to step up despatches to major thermal stations.

According to the latest data, stations with less than a week's coal stock have risen to a record 52, up from 36 in the beginning of last month. Also, a total of 32 key thermal power stations in the country were operating with coal stocks of less than four days, out of the 86 major thermal stations monitored for their coal stock position.

The 52 stations that have less than a week's stock add up to a cumulative capacity of well over two-thirds of the country's total installed coal-fired capacity of 99,503 MW.

Thermal stations are normally expected to hold coal stocks of between 15 and 30 days, depending on the location of the project. While pithead stations are expected to hold stocks of 15 days or more, stations located away from the mine are expected to hold coal stocks for 21 to 30 days.

NTPC Ltd said it is ensuring that stocks are “comfortable” at its stations by juggling around fuel from various sources, including imported coal and fuel from several domestic coal fields. Estimates suggest that NTPC's Singrauli and Kahalgaon stations had stocks of about 7,000 tonnes each as on November 20, against a requirement of 31,600 tonnes and 52,300 tonnes respectively.

The 3,260-MW Vindhyachal station had extremely low stocks, with higher generation being cited as the key reason.

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