The Aditya Birla Group is in talks with American thermal coal miner Drummond Company to purchase a significant stake in coal mines in Colombia owned by the privately held company. The Kumar Mangalam Birla-promoted group wants to strengthen its mining business and utilise the coal for its captive power plants to make aluminium in India, a person with direct knowledge of the development said.
“The group is looking to own rights of anywhere between 20% and 40% of the coal produced in these mines and this may need an investment of $1 billion,” the person said. “The ownership will also help the group hedge itself against price volatility in the global coal market.”
“We do not comment on market speculation,” Tuhin Mukherjee, managing director, Aditya Birla Natural Resources, said.
“Indian power producers need to purchase overseas coal mines as there is a shortage of coal," said a former managing director of a power producing company. “Demand will grow faster as India plans to add 1 lakh MW according to the government's five-year plan and Coal India will be unable to meet this demand.”
The Aditya Birla Group's flagship company and aluminium maker Hindalco has been seeking environmental clearance to begin mining coal from the Mahan coal block in Madhya Pradesh to feed its 750-MW captive power plant to make aluminium. The company is building a 359,000-tonne new aluminium smelter project at Mahan.
Hindalco was allotted the coal block in 2006, for which environmental clearance was given in December 2008. Development work was halted after the area was declared a no-go zone in January 2010. The Forest Advisory Committee considered the proposal four times between July 2008 and December 2009, but it could not arrive at a final decision.
On May 30, 2012, a group of ministers gave conditional approval for Hindalco to start mining at the site. The company's smelter project at Mahan was expected to start this fiscal.
Debu Bhattacharya, managing director, Hindalco, said the smelter would start operations with purchased coal if environmental clearance for the Mahan coal block was not received in time. It will still take the company at least 12 more months to begin coal production from the mine.
Ultra mega power producers, which have to sell power at fixed tariff under an agreement with the government, are finding it tough to stay profitable while using expensive imported coal. Higher coal prices, taxes and royalties by various countries have made it unviable to