Coal imports by power units slide to 7 year-low

Price drives trend, exacerbates deficit

Indian utilities’ coal imports fell more than 73% in September to their lowest in more than seven years due to high prices, government data showed, despite a call by the Centre to boost shipments to arrest a crippling coal shortage.

Imports by utilities fell to 1.08 million tonnes in September, compared with 4.03 million tonnes a year earlier and 5.23 million tonnes in September 2019.

India had urged utilities to import coal in late August as coal-fired electricity generation surged after coronavirus-related curbs were eased, with several power plants being pushed to the verge of running out of fuel.

However, data from the Central Electricity Authority showed State government-run coastal power plants dependent on imported coal had cut supplies as global prices surged, increasing pressure on Coal India to produce more.

Almost three-fifths of India’s coal-fired capacities currently have coal inventories that would last three days or less, data showed.

Imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by utilities duringthe September quarter also slumped 36%, the data showed, hittingtheir lowest levels in three years. The drop represented thesteepest monthly decline in at least three and a half years.

Coal imports by power plants fell 55% during the quarter,making it the biggest fall in at least six and a half years.

Overall gas consumption by utilities fell by about a fifthduring the quarter, with power plants increasing reliance onlong-term contracts with global and domestic firms, and cut downon spot buying as prices surged, the data showed.

India mainly imports natural gas from Qatar, whileIndonesia, Australia and South Africa are key suppliers of coalto the world’s second-largest importer of the fuel.

Imports of coal could, however, rise in the coming months asstate-run NTPC Ltd has issued a tender to import 2million tonnes of coal, nearly double the quantity it hasimported so far this year. It was not immediately clear when thecoal would be delivered.(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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