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Coal shortage now at alarming levels, say aluminium producers

In its representation to the Ministry, the AAI has lauded the combined efforts by the Ministry of Coal and Coal India Limited in reviving domestic coal production, which has helped ease the coal supply crisis for the Power Sector.

Statesman News Service | Bhubaneswar |

With no relief in sight despite coal stocks running critically low and production disruptions looming across the Indian aluminium sector, the Aluminium Association of India (AAI) has urged the union coal ministry for immediate resumption of adequate coal rakes for the highly power-intensive Aluminium industry.

In its representation to the Ministry, the AAI has lauded the combined efforts by the Ministry of Coal and Coal India Limited in reviving domestic coal production, which has helped ease the coal supply crisis for the Power Sector. The steps undertaken by the Ministry increased the overall daily rakes dispatched from 242 rakes/day in September 2021 to 289 rakes/day in December 2021.

This has drastically strengthened the coal stocks of the Power Sector to around 10 days, a marked improvement from a mere 2-3 days in the months of September-October last year.

However, this has come at enormous cost to the Captive Power Plants (CPP)-based industry and the worst impacted is the Indian aluminium industry, which continues to see depleting coal stocks of only 3-4 days, abysmally low compared to the prescribed level of 15 days for the sector.

Struggling to cope with this prolonged crisis since the second quarter of this fiscal year, the AAI has now sought the Ministry’s support to ensure adequate supplies to the CPPs by earmarking at least 25-30 coal rakes per day to ensure viable industry operations.

The need for the CPPs is especially urgent, given that Aluminium production is a continuous process that requires huge volumes of uninterrupted quality power supply. This quantum can only be met only through the in-house CPPs set up by all the aluminium smelters plants to meet this specific requirement. Accordingly, the industry has established Captive Power Plants of ~9,400 MW capacity (comprising ~34% of the cumulative thermal CPPs capacity domestically) to supply continuous power for Aluminium operations.

Even though the Government has reiterated that there is now an improved availability of coal in the country overall, the non-availability of rakes for the non-regulated sectors remains a major concern. Curtailing coal supplies to Captive Power Plants (CPPs) has directly resulted in a coal crunch situation for the Aluminium Sector.

Any power interruption in an aluminium smelting operation for more than 2 hours can lead to the freezing of molten aluminium within the smelting pots, which takes a minimum of 6 months to fix, and then almost a year to once again begin yielding the desired metal output, causing enormous production, cost and supply disruptions.

With the continued crisis, it will take over a year’s time to clear the backlog of rakes, and for the CPPs to build and maintain adequate coal stocks for sustainable operations. The crisis further aggravated with the last-minute cancellation of coal auctions for NRS, giving no relief for the domestic industry to secure coal for manufacturing and CPP-based industries.

With the ongoing revival of the economy and increased post-pandemic industrial activity, the CPP-based industries are highly dependent on uninterrupted coal and supply which is vital for sustainable operations and the continued cost-competitiveness of power-intensive industries vis-à-vis global players. Any production curtailment by this sector will have a cascading effect on consumption and downstream supply chain, thereby adversely impacting the nation’s GDP growth.

The AAI representation has gone on to highlight that since August 2021, the Non-Regulated Sector has been facing uncertainties in securing sufficient coal rakes for continued operations, with supplies limited to just 40-50% of the required coal. This has led to a backlog of over 6000 coal rakes as most of the available coal and rakes are being diverted to the Power Sector as “Priority Coal Supplies”, even despite their coal inventory situation drastically improving.