Banpu Pcl, Thailand's biggest coal miner, expects prices of the raw material to set new records as demand growth in Asia, led by China and India, outpaces supply. India will raise purchases at a faster pace in the next two years, compared with 2007 and 2008, as the nation completes power plants, Philip Gasteen, head of marketing and logistics, said during the McCloskey Group coal conference in Singapore yesterday. Indonesia, the world's second-biggest thermal coal exporter, is promoting coal-fired power output to cut oil use. Benchmark prices at Newcastle, the world's biggest export harbor for thermal coal in Australia, dropped $4.71 to $134.45 a metric tonne in the week ended February 22 after four weeks of records, according to the globalCOAL NEWC Index. Prices had climbed after heavy rains in Australia, power shortages in South Africa and snowstorms in China cut output. "Things got tighter because of growth,'' Gasteen said in the interview. China's export ban after the nation's worst snowstorms in 50 years will pull 8 million tonnes out of the Pacific basin during the first quarter and "is a big loss,'' he said. China, the world's second-biggest energy consumer, banned coal exports so that local utilities "don't have grounds to raise prices'' amid government efforts to curb inflation, Gasteen said. Vietnam's exports Vietnam, China's largest coal supplier, plans to reduce exports 32 per cent this year and gradually eliminate the sales to meet rising domestic demand, Nguyen Khac Tho, vice director of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's energy and petroleum department, said February 15. Exports may drop to a forecast 22 million tonnes from 32.2 million in 2007 and the government is recommending halting overseas shipments after 2015. Coal producers are keeping inventories at half of typical levels of 6 to 7 per cent of annual output because of rising demand, Gasteen said. Banpu is maintaining stockpiles at about 3 to 4 percent of annual production, he said. "Demand has been very high so producers have been shipping out higher proportions than production and not putting as much in stock ,'' he said. Gasteen declined to comment on prices being negotiated with Japanese customers for annual supplies starting in April. Australian miners are seeking between $125 and $136 a tonne under one-year contracts, compared with offers from Japanese utilities to pay $110 a ton, Peter Ball, vice president for marketing at PT Bumi Resources, Indonesia's largest thermal coal exporter, said earlier this week in an interview. In the year ending March 31, the price is about $55. Japan is Banpu's biggest export destination, representing 25 per cent to 30 per cent of its sales. Banpu also ships to buyers in Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and Italy, Gasteen said.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Electricity and Port yesterday called on the government not to allow open pit coal mining in Phulbari, saying that it would lead to environmental disasters in the area. Such a project would lead to the eviction of 4.7 lakh people from four upazilas and cause the groundwater level to go further down, the committee leaders said at a press conference at Dinajpur Press Club. The government should also review the draft coal policy and maintain neutrality regarding the Phulbari coalmine issue, they added. The leaders said that according to the proposal of the Asia Energy, it would extract coal for 30 years through open pit method and export two-thirds of coal. Extraction of coal through open pit mining would cause massive damage to agriculture and the environment and threaten the livelihoods of local people, they said. The leaders also said any agreements on open pit mining would go against the interest of the country. Prof Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the committee, said the open pit method would cause more damage to ecology than the extent of economic benefit from the coalmine if the draft coal policy is not reviewed. Open pit method is not suitable for densely populated countries like Bangladesh, he added. Dr Sheikh Mohammad Shahidullah and Prof Samsul Alam also spoke at the press conference.

Firm to set up coal-based plant in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh. Godawari Power and Ispat (GPIL), an integrated steel manufacturer based in Chhattisgarh, is mulling foray into commercial power generation with projects in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand with capacities ranging between 300 to 1,000 mw with coal and coal rejects as fuel. A consortium led by GPIL has been allocated four coal blocks at Nakia and Madanpur in Chhattisgarh with 243 million tonnes of total reserves, of which, GPIL's share is 63 million tonnes. Of this, 40-50 per cent will be wastage such as coal ash and gases during coal processing. GPIL was planning to optimise its coal mines with coal rejects-fired power plants as part of its backward integration expansions, said sources familiar with the development. GPIL would start mining by 2009 and set up power generation facilities by then, added sources. "Our board of directors is yet to consider or finalise any plan and, now, we are concentrating only on the existing expansion plans to increase our operating margins. We may enter into commercial power business in future since our businesses are closely associated with power generation,' said Dinesh Gandhi, director, finance. GPIL is a mid-sized integrated steel player producing sponge iron, steel billets, steel wires, wire rods and ferro alloys and generates captive power from waste gases produced at its steel manufacturing facilities. GPIL currently has 53 mw of captive power consumption, which includes a 25 mw captive power plant commissioned in the first half of 2007-08. Of this, 11 mw is produced using byproducts of sponge iron. According to sources, B L Agarwal, managing director of GPIL, in his personal capacity has picked up 25 per cent stake in Maruti Clean Coal and Power, a company floated in Chhattisgarh to set up a 270 mw coal-fired power plant with an investment of Rs 1,000 crore. However, GPIL has not firmed up any fuel linkages for this project, sources said. GPIL is setting up a coal washery unit and a 0.6 mega tonnes per annum (mtpa) pelletisation plant with an overall capital expenditure of Rs 230 crore. This expansion would reduce the raw material cost helping increase operating margins up to 40 per cent. With captive iron ore and coal mines ready for raw material supply by 2009, the company could enter into areas such as power production in a big way, said sources.

Authorities allowed extraction of coal in Darra Adamkhel which was stopped after army operation against militants in the region, mine owners said. A delegation of Coal Mines Owners Association led by its chairman Haji Abdullah called on military authorities here on Tuesday and asked them to allow workers to start exploration of coal in the area. The association chairman said that they had been permitted to carry out mining from 8am to 5pm daily. The army assured us that security forces would not create hurdles in our work, he added. He said that a large number of workers hailing from different parts of the province suffered due to closure of coalmine in Darra Adamkhel and also caused huge financial losses to the owners. More than 150 truck coal is explored from mines daily in the area which has huge deposits of coal. Mining was stopped in the region after security forces launched operation against militants on Jan 25.

US governors pushing alternative energy development are not shying from coal, a major culprit in global warming but also a homegrown energy source and an economic lifeline for many states. Leaders of coal-rich states say clean-coal technology is a must. Governors from states without coal want more evidence the technology works.

Coal India Ltd (CIL) and IL&FS Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (IL&FS IDC), a unit of IL&FS, have signed a deal to float a 50-50 joint venture to undertake develop mining, power and other coal-based projects. A special purpose vehicle, Integrated Power & Coal Development Co Pvt Ltd (Intec), will set up a project development fund of Rs 10 crore per project with equal shares from the two partners to fund each project that it takes up. CIL's technical director NC Jha and IL&FS IDC's managing director DK Mittal signed the pact at CIL's headquarters here in the presence of CIL chairman Partha S Bhattacharyya and others. The SPV will undertake the entire chain of project development activities, from project identification, site selection, facilitation in land acquisition and technical and environmental studies to preparation of DPR, EIA, obtaining various clearances and approvals, obtaining linkages, tying of sales (power sales as relevant to power projects), finalisation of evacuation arrangements, financial modeling, legal documentation, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, O&M, project structuring and marketing with lenders and investors. The SPV will work on projects that involve improving mine performance, accessing difficult mines, developing or implementing pithead coal-based power projects, development of washeries, power plants based on asheries and so on. The venture will also help private sector Companies that have been allotted mines to develop them. CIL expects to gain from the SPV's activities by way of low-cost power from pithead-based power plants and by selling power instead of coal.

The government is planning to create a multi-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund to invest in energy assets such as oil, gas and coal across the world. "The plans are at a very initial stage. A decision on this would be taken after the budget,' Planning Commission energy adviser Surya P Sethi said here. "The fund, if set up, will invest in overseas oil, gas and coal assets.' Sethi did not give any idea of the possible size of the fund, but said: "It has to be in billions of dollars.' According to the latest data available with the Reserve Bank of India, the country's foreign exchange reserves stood at about $290.8 billion for the weekended February 8, up 57% from a year earlier. A sovereign wealth fund comprises assets such as stocks, bonds and other financial instruments, which is owned and managed by the government. The funds are deployed overseas for higher returns. The fund will be on the lines of Temasek Holdings, a sovereign wealth fund owned by the Singapore government. Officials are of the view that low returns on investments in US treasury bills and other sovereign securities did not cover the costs of maintaining huge forex reserves, and justified establishing a fund that could deliver higher returns. Last year, state-run India Infrastructure Finance Co Ltd set up an offshore unit in London to use part of the country's reserves to help local Companies import equipment for infrastructure projects. The corpus of this fund is $5 billion. The central bank has previously expressed reluctance at using forex reserves to set up an investment fund as it said the build-up in reserves was largely to insulate the Economy from the impact of huge capital inflows, which could be reversed at short notice.

It could be a bitter end to a sweet, juicy story. Maharashtra is planning mega power plants in Ratnagiri district, a horticulture zone known for its finest Alphonso mangoes, which are exported to

The public hearing for Jindal group's fourth coal mine in Tamnar block in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, was conducted amidst protests on January 5. People claimed they were not informed of the hearing and

The India Energy Conclave 2007 would focus on the preparedness of the Indian energy sector to keep up with the rapidly growing Indian economy. It will focus on a wide range of topics of interest to stakeholders. It would cover both conventional and non-conventional energy and focus on policy, power, coal, gas and technology.