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Power plants hungry for coal
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-18 23:27

The nation's current power shortage can partly be ascribed to inadequate coal transportation capacity across the country, experts say.

Coal-fired electricity generating provides more than 80 per cent of the total power in the country, which, in turn, requires large amounts of coal, a researcher with China Academy of Sciences said.

However, due to a deficient coal transportation system -- which mainly depends on railways -- many power plants are short of fuel, which finds power production failing to meet the nation's demands in the peak consumption periods,the expert, who declined to be named, said.

At least 1 million kilowatts cannot be generated due to coal shortages, and power shortages this summer are estimated at more than 20 million kilowatts, China Central Television reports.

China is facing its most serious-ever power shortages this year. More than 20 provinces have experienced power problems in the past few months.

National electricity consumption set a new record of 5.967 billion kilowatt-hour (kwh) last Friday, breaking a historic high set on July 29 last year.

Electricity shortages at peak times in the second quarter are estimated to exceed 20 million kilowatts, while the third quarter is expected to face a 30-million-kilowatt shortfall.

To alleviate its strained supply, China's railway authority has urged local railway departments to make every effort to ensure coal transport remains unhindered.

Priority should be given to coal for the nation's major power grid and power plants,Railway Minister Liu Zhijun said.

Statistics from Liu's ministry indicate that among 310,000 carriages in the nation's railway departments, 220,000 have been used to transport coal.

From January to May, the nation's coal transport via rail was more than 400 million tons, an increase of 46.82 million tons compared with the year before.

In the meantime, the rail ministry urged local cargo transport departments last week to stabilize freight charges to ensure fuel transport continues.

Additional charges for transportation of important materials are banned, according to the ministry.

In fact, the nation's rail network felt great pressure as early as February, when large amounts of farming materials such as grains, seeds, fertilizers and machines were in need of transport.

Despite 'round-the-clock operations, the railway cargo transport still failed to meet the nation's demands and constitutes a bottleneck for economic development, rail officials say.

The key contradiction to the problem is the limited railway network to carry crowded passenger and cargo trains, they said.

While speeding up the railways to improve transport efficiency, the ministry has also intensified infrastructure construction. It has also mapped out a programme centering around construction of railway network to elevate the nation's railway transport capacity.

Accordingly,by the end of 2020,railways available for transport will be increased to 100,000 kilometres from the current 73,000 kilometres.

In addition, passenger and freight transportation will be partly separated, according to the long-term plan.

Fundamental reforms must be implemented in the nation's railway industry so that rail development can meet the demands of the nation's rapid economic growth, experts say.

Electricity-generating enterprises also must try to break the bottleneck of limited rail resources by building special lines for coal transport.

Beijing Datang Power Co Ltd has submitted its plan to governmental departments to build a 870-kilometre special line from Erdos of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to Beijing-Tangshan Harbour based in Tangshan of Hebei Province, China Business Times reported.

The plan has been studied by some rail experts and is waiting for approval by the National Development and Reform Commission.

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