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JAKARTA, March 7 (Reuters) - Indonesia could exhaust its economically retrievable coal reserves by 2033, a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers released on Monday showed.
Indonesia is among the world's top exporters of thermal coal, but its output has slipped in recent years as plummeting prices of the power station fuel have forced miners to cut costs.
The PwC study is based on information from 25 coal mining companies representing around 80 percent of Indonesia's output, and looked into the availability of domestic coal for the 35 gigawatts of power stations Indonesia hopes to build by 2019.
Cost cuts by miners have included reducing exploration and stripping ratios - the amount of dirt removed to expose mineable coal, PwC Indonesian advisory chief Mirza Diran told reporters.
"Exploration to find new coal reserves has pretty well stopped," Diran said, adding that these two factors had reduced the lifespan of the country's coal mines.
Based on government data, Indonesia had around 32.3 billion tonnes of coal reserves in 2014. However, declining stripping ratios and profitability have led to a drop in coal reserves of 30 to 40 percent, Diran said, noting that the survey found coal reserves of between 7.3 billion and 8.3 billion tonnes.
In these circumstances, Indonesia's coal reserves could be depleted between 2033 and 2036, he said.
"There is a possibility that national coal reserves ... will not be enough to supply 20 gigawatts of power stations for 25-35 years," Diran said, referring to the portion of the 35-gigawatt programme that is expected to be coal-fueled.
Coal miners' profitability - as reflected in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) - declined by 60 percent to $2.5 billion in 2014 from $6.5 billion 2011 among the group of miners studied, Diran said.
As a result, in 2015 the companies' spending had fallen by around 80 percent to $400 million from the $1.9 billion spent in 2012.
"Our survey indicates this decline will continue with a (further) 10 to 20 percent decline in 2016."
Responding to the findings, the Indonesian Coal Mining Association urged the government to lock in measures to set coal prices based on miners' costs.
Association chairman Pandu Sjahrir said he hoped such a pricing policy would help stimulate investment in exploration and stabilise the economy, as well as secure coal reserves for the country's power stations. (Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Dale Hudson)