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Coal shortages cut more power plants in China
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Coal shortages have closed down more power stations with an aggregate capacity of up to 40.99 million kilowatts, said the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) on Monday.

The affected capacity equals to 40 percent of last year's expansions.

SERC figures show that coal reserves now stand at 21.24 million tons, slightly higher than a week earlier, when the State Grid said that reserves were down 40 percent year-on-year to 17.73 million tons, equaling eight days' supply for China's power plants.

The bad weather is affecting both supply and demand for coal.

Coal transport has been hampered by a combination of the bad weather that has affected much of the country and rising passenger rail traffic as the Spring Festival, the country's major family reunion occasion, approaches. Simultaneously, cold weather has increased coal demand for heating, and heavy rail traffic is also pushing up demand for coal, which helps power the rail system.

Only an average of less than 25 percent of the daily demand for coal shipment by rail has been met, according to the Ministry of Railways.

Snow and ice cut off electricity transmission lines and halted at least 136 trains in central Hunan Province on a major rail artery linking Beijing with Guangzhou last Saturday.

Some coal mines went on recess ahead of the Spring Festival, while many regions have closed small, unsafe mines as part of the national campaign for safe coal production, also leading to a decrease in supply, said Zhu Hongren, deputy director of the Bureau of Economic Operations with the National Development and Reform Commission.

The Ministry of Railways said that it had beefed up coal loading since last Saturday, loading a record of 36,000 coal cars per day, or 30 percent more than a year earlier.

Zhu urged local governments to impose strict limits on electricity use by enterprises operating at excess capacity or those that consume much energy and produce heavy pollution.

"Under the circumstances, the bad weather may continue and exacerbate the power strain," said Zhu, demanding that all regions improve emergency plans.

Severe weather has affected most of China since mid-January, disrupting power, transport and communications. The Ministry of Information Industry said mobile communication interruptions had affected more than 33 million mobile phone users and caused direct losses of nearly 80 million yuan (US$11 million) by last Sunday.

(Xinhua News Agency January 29, 2008)

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