China Orders 'Urgent' Action to Avert Power Crisis

Coal stockpiles are perilously low.

China on Jan. 23 issued an "urgent" call for the coal industry, electricity providers and government agencies to ensure adequate coal supplies as a nationwide power crisis loomed. The government said the order was spurred by a recent and steady decline in the nation's coal stockpile to perilously low levels just as a spell of harsh winter weather has driven up China's already voracious demand.

"Some regions have seen their coal stockpiles drop sharply, causing both coal and electricity supplies to fall to emergency levels," said the order issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, which has control over energy issues. The "urgent notice" posted on the commission's Website called on coal suppliers and electricity providers to maintain steady output, businesses and government agencies to push electricity conservation and all parties to ensure coal is brought to market quickly.

The plea comes after the country's largest electricity supplier, State Grid Corp., asked the government to help ensure coal supplies, the China Business News reported. The looming supply shortage had already caused 13 provincial power grids in central and southern China to impose restrictions on electricity use, it added.

The report said the booming nation's stockpile of coal, which provides about 70% of China's power needs, had dwindled to a mere week's supply in recent days. According to State Grid Corp., the stockpile stood at 17.7 million tons on January 20, down more than 40% from a year earlier, or about an eight-day supply, the paper said. The commission said the government was at least partly to blame for precipitating the crisis through a recent campaign to close thousands of unsafe or illegal coal mines, crimping the nation's output.

China's electricity consumption has soared amid booming economic growth, putting the government in a quandary about how to meet that demand while simultaneously limiting consumption of heavily polluting coal and cutting down on the chronic deadly accidents in the coal mining industry. The situation has been worsened by several other factors including drought conditions that have hit hydroelectric output, the commission said. "Coal and electricity markets are now seeing peak winter demand just as a low-water period has caused hydroelectric output to fall, further driving up demand for thermal and coal power." Meanwhile, heavy snowfalls and icy conditions that have claimed a number of lives across much of the country also have hampered coal transportation, the commission added.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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