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Coal stocks fall below safe level
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China's stockpiles of coal, used to generate almost 80 percent of the country's power, dropped below the government's "caution line" in some central provinces while electricity is being restored to quake-hit Sichuan Province.

Inventories of thermal-coal in five regions including central Anhui and Hunan provinces as well as Hebei in the north have fallen below seven days' worth of consumption, the China Electricity Council said in a statement on its Website yesterday. The government has closed 32 coal-fired generators in those areas to conserve fuel, the council said.

China, the world's biggest consumer of coal, is shutting thousands of unsafe and inefficient mines in northern Shanxi Province and other producing areas, curbing supplies of the fuel. The 32 shut generators, or 4.82 gigawatts of capacity, account for less than 1 percent of the nation's coal-fired capability of 554.4 gigawatts as of the end of last year, the council said.

"Small mines in Shanxi aren't operating normally and many have been shut," Xie Juchen, a senior engineer with the electricity council, said by telephone with Bloomberg News in Beijing. "It's not a problem with transportation. It remains to be seen whether the thermal-coal supply will worsen."

Coal stockpiles at the country's major power plants declined to 41.7 million metric tons as of May 18, the council said. This marks a drop from 46.7 million tons in April and 53 million tons at the beginning of March.

The country's power generation rose 14.1 percent to 1.091 billion megawatt-hours in the first four months, the council said on Monday. Demand climbed 12 percent to 1.1 billion megawatt-hours.

In earthquake-hit areas in the southwest, power output is being gradually restored, the council said. China has repaired 60 percent of the thermal power plants with a combined capacity of 3.12 gigawatts halted by last week's quake, the council said.

(Shanghai Daily May 21, 2008)

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