BEIJING/SINGAPROE - China will tell coal miners to maintain normal output during the Lunar New Year holiday after a production boost that began in late 2021 lifted thermal coal stocks to record levels, a state planning official said on Tuesday.

The government was also pushing to expedite the approval and construction of cross-region electricity grids to optimise the power system after a supply crunch last year led to widespread power rationing and record coal prices.

China's power consumption is expected to continue its rapid growth this year after a robust 10.3% expansion in 2021, Li Yunqing, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters.

Meantime, China will also increase new energy generation capacity, as well as encourage companies to maximise oil and gas production during the holidays.

The Lunar New Year break kicks off Jan. 31 and lasts through Feb. 6.

Thermal coal inventory at key power plants last stood at a seasonal record of 166 million tonnes as of Jan. 16, sufficient to cover 21 days' use, said Li, an official with NDRC's Economic Operation Department.

That was partly due to enhanced logistics after a 20% jump in rail freight dedicated to transporting coal in the fourth quarter versus a year ago, while turnovers at top coal ports hit new highs.

China's thermal coal prices have stabilised near 700 yuan ($110) per tonne since November, after government orders to boost production led to prices more than halving from record levels reached in mid-October.

Natural gas, a key heating fuel for northern China, remained in ample supply as domestic fields pumped at top rates and importers maintained high inventories at both underground sites and coastal receiving terminals, Li added.

Daily gas use touched a record 1.372 billion cubic meters as of Dec. 27, exceeding the previous peak during the last heating season by 50 million cubic meters.

"Demand from residential, power generation and key industries like fertilizer production have been well covered," Li said, adding that so far there has been no gas rationing in the non-residential sector. ($1 = 6.3443 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Shen Yan in Beijing and Chen Aizhu in Singapore; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Richard Pullin) ((; Reuters Messaging: