Vietnam imported its first load of coal this week to fuel its power plants, a move that came much sooner than expected.
The country was expected to start importing coal in 2015, when a number of new power plants were scheduled to start operation.
According to Vietnam News Agency, the shipment of about 9,575 tons of coal from Indonesia arrived at a southern seaport on Monday. The imports will be used to power new thermal power plants in the central and southern regions.
The report cited the National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin) as saying that it plans to import about 10 million tons of coal in 2012. The imports are scheduled to gradually increase to 100 million tons by 2020.
Vinacomin officials say they are also considering importing other coal varieties to supply to steel and cement manufacturers.
The nation is rich in the fuel and currently serves as a coal exporter. There have been discussions about cutting back on coal exports to ensure sufficient supplies for the domestic market first.
Vinacomin, however, argued that importing cheap coal for power plants is a necessary move because Vietnamese coal is of higher quality and is better suited to the chemical and metallurgy sectors.
According to news website VnExpress, Vinacomin produced 19.2 million tons of coal in the first five months of 2011, a 5.5 percent increase over the same period last year. During the same period, coal exports fell 25 percent to 6.64 million tons.