UPDATE 1-China's September coal imports rise by 76% from a year earlier

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BEIJING, Oct 13 (Reuters) - China’s coal imports in September rose to their highest this year as power plants scrambled for fuel to boost electricity generation to ease a power crunch and replenish inventories ahead of the winter.

China, the world’s biggest coal consumer, brought in 32.88 million tonnes of coal last month, up 76% from a year earlier, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday.

That was up from 28.05 million tonnes in August.

Several regions in China have been suffering their worst power shortages in years, as power plants struggle to source sufficient fuel for electricity generation and to achieve breakeven following sky-rocketing coal prices.

Reuters reported last week that China is releasing Australian coal from bonded storage after imposing an early year-long unofficial imports ban on the fuel.

Power plants also seek to diversify coal sources from niche market such as Kazakhstan.

The state planner in late September also stipulated a moderate increase in coal imports to ease the supply crunch.

Premier Li Keqiang said in an online meeting with Mongolia’s prime minister that he would be “happy to see” an expansion in the volume of coal traded between the two countries.

Over the first three quarters of this year, China imported 230.4 million tonnes of coal, down 3.6% year-on-year.

Refinitiv trade flows data show that about 15.39 million tonnes of coal is expected to arrive China as of Wednesday. (Reporting by Muyu Xu and Shivani Singh; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)