March 24, 2023

Power plants staring at fresh coal shortage due to ‘bias’ – Times of India

NEW DELHI: Coal shortage at power plants may appear to be over for the time being but the spectre of another crisis is lurking beneath the surface, especially for generation stations located far from mines. But unlike September last year, this time such plants — termed as ‘foreign’ by Indian Railways — are suffering due to discrimination in allotment of rakes and a free-for-all among railway zones in the race to post higher despatch figures.
Last week, the Amaravati power plant operated by Rattan India Power Ltd in Maharashtra became the first victim of the situation when it shut down one of its units due to coal shortage resulting from insufficient rake allotment by SECR, the south east central zone of the railways.
The power ministry on January 17 issued an office memo seeking details of remedial action taken by the Railways as grumblings from private power plants facing similar situation grew louder, government sources said. Industry sources said L&T’s Nhava and Vedanta’s Talwandi Sabo power plants are among other plants facing similar predicament. These plants could not be contacted immediately.
The problem, both government and industry sources said, lies in zones focusing on power plants and mines located within their jurisdiction or the rakes do not have to cross multiple zones.
The Railways describes distant power plants as foreign as the rakes have to go across the home zone.
The trend is more pronounced in zones with heavy-duty coal lifting such as SECR, which largely services SECL (South Eastern Coalfields Ltd), Coal India Ltd’s largest mine.
“The shorter intra-zone haul allows faster turnaround of rakes. This automatically helps zones to improve their loading and despatch figures. There is also another reason. Railway zones are under pressure to show higher despatch figures. For example, in cases where SECL coal has to cross other zones, the empty rakes are commandeered by the other zone on their way back for despatch of coal from WCL (Western Coalfields Ltd) to elsewhere, say the north,” one industry executive said requesting anonymity.
The power ministry had in December asked plants to import 10% of their coal requirement to avoid a repeat of last year’s situation when fuel stocks ran precariously low as coal production and despatch was hit by heavy monsoon rains.

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