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By Sudarshan Varadhan and Gaurav Dogra
NEW DELHI - Indian utilities' coal imports rose to their highest levels since 2015 and reversed a three year slide, government data showed, mainly due to increased imports by a major plant run by Adani Power Ltd.
Imports rose 21% in 2019 to 69.51 million tonnes, data from the Central Electricity Authority showed.
Adani's "Ultra mega" power plant in Mundra in western India accounted for a fourth of the imports, with its shipments rising 75% to 17.35 million tonnes.
Utilities account for more than 75% of India's annual coal demand.
Adani started increasing shipments after India's Supreme Court allowed the company to pass on higher costs due to a rise in prices of Indonesian coal in October 2018.
Coal imports by the Mundra plant were lower earlier as the project was operating well below full capacity and booking losses because power purchase agreements did not allow it to pass on the increase in fuel cost.
Overall imports of thermal coal for the 10 months to October were up 12.6% at 163.86 million tonnes, coal ministry data showed. Data for thermal coal imports for November and December have not yet been compiled.
India is one of the world's largest consumers of coal.
Analysts expect overall imports of thermal coal to rise by more than 13% in 2019.
Imports are rising despite the worst growth slowdown since the global financial crisis, as logistical challenges, heavy rains and frequent strikes and protests have hit output at state-run Coal India, which accounts for more than four-fifths of India's coal production.
Federal government-run companies including NTPC Ltd increased imports four-fold to 3.61 million tonnes, the data showed.
Among utilities run by state governments, Tamil Nadu state-run TANGEDCO's coal imports rose the most, with shipments almost doubling to 5.14 million tonnes in 2019.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jason Neely)