With coal prices continuing to decline, Indonesia will struggle to provide the coal needed to fire up its power stations in the near future, a study predicts.
The government is struggling to expedite a number of power plant projects under its ambitious 35,000 megawatt (MW) generation program, aimed at supporting the country’s economic growth.
The program expects that coal can fulfill 66 percent of the primary energy sources for power plants by 2024, which is equivalent to 361 gigawatt hours (GWh) output by coal-fired power plants.
The study, which was conducted by the Indonesian Coal Mining Association (APBI) in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Indonesia, however, suggests that the country’s coal-fired power plants will not be able to provide the expected 20,000 MW for the next 25 to 30 years, based on current commodity prices.
“This is due to the current commodity prices as a result of which the coal sector’s profitability has reached its lowest point and there has been a decrease in production by coal companies,” PwC’s president director advisory, Mirza Diran, said Monday in a press conference.
The government has so far been optimistic about the feasibility of the program as according to data from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, Indonesia had around 32.3 billion tons of coal reserves in 2014.
APBI and PwC’s study, however, shows that with declining coal prices throughout last year only between 7.3 and 8.3 billion tons of these reserves are economically viable to mine. This preliminary projection indicates that these reserves will be depleted by 2033-2036.
“Mining requires funds. If the price of coal is US$50, while it costs $60 to mine, then the coal will automatically not be mined. It is as if we have a decrease in reserves,” APBI chairman Pandu P. Sjahrir said.
Coal prices have steadily declined in the past few years, amid oversupply and declining demand from major coal importer China.
Australia’s Newcastle coal price, an Asian benchmark, dropped to $51.29 per ton, as estimated by Reuters in late February. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s coal reference price (HBA) dropped to $50.92 in February from $53.2 in January.
The study, which surveyed 25 coal-mining companies, showed coal-producer earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization had dropped by 60 percent to $2.6 billion in 2014 from $6.5 billion in 2011. It is expected to decrease by 16 percent in 2015.
This has also caused capital expenditure to drop by around 79 percent to $400 million in 2015 from $1.9 billion in 2012, and it is expected to continue to decrease this year by 10-20 percent. Consequently, mining exploration to find new coal reserves has largely stopped.
Pandu explained that the findings showed that there was a possibility Indonesia would have to start importing coal by 2030. “This means that we’ll have to start importing starting from around 2030, even though we have always been exporters,” he said.