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Coal shortages cut power plants in China
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Coal shortages have closed down power stations with an aggregate capacity of up to 40.99 million kilowatts in China, or 7 percent of the capacity of China's thermal power plants, said the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) on Monday.

SERC figures show that coal reserves now stand at a little more than 21 million tons, less than half of the normal reserves. Nearly 90 power plants, which account for over one tenth of the national gross installed capacity, have less than three days coal reserves.

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 approaches. In addition, the cold weather also increased coal demand for heating and heavy rail traffic is also pushing up demand for coal to 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 and 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 movements since last Saturday, loading a record of about 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 had high energy consumption or heavy pollution levels.

"Under the circumstances, the bad elements 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, especially south China, 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 (about US$11 million) by last Sunday.

Late on Monday, the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) issued an orange alert for severe snowstorms in southern China. Heavy snow is set to blanket Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hunan provinces in the next three days. Further, sleet will continue to pound parts of Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi and Guangxi provinces, according to CMA.

The prolonged snow, the worst in a decade in many places, has hit most of China since mid-January, leaving homes collapsed, power blacked out, highways closed and crops destroyed. The weather has killed 24 people since Jan. 10, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said  on Monday, and more than 77.86 million people had been affected by snow in 14 provinces.

The snow has affected more than 4.2 million hectares of farmland. It had also caused the collapse of 107,000 houses and damaged 399,000 other homes, leading to a direct economic loss of 22.09 billion yuan.

(Xinhua News Agency January 29, 2008)

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