India’s coal-based thermal power plants continue to drag their feet in meeting emission norms, says a new analysis done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The CSE analysis finds that a mere 5 per cent of the installed capacity in this sector has put in place an air pollution control device — flue gas de-sulfurization (FGD) system — for controlling SO2 emissions.
The analysis is based on the updated FGD status released by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the technical arm of the Union Ministry of Power, for April 2023.
Nivit Yadav, programme director of industrial pollution unit, CSE, says: "The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had issued a notification specifying the emission norms for coal-based power plants way back in December 2015. Since then, the norms have been diluted for several parameters and deadlines delayed".
As per the CSE analysis, the 5 per cent of plants that have so far installed FGDs for controlling SO2 emissions include 9,280 MW that have been reported to have commissioned FGDs and another 1,430 MW that ‘claim to be SO2 compliant’.
Anubha Aggarwal, programme officer, industrial pollution unit, CSE, says: “How far these claims are true is difficult to say, considering that there is no information available about on-ground inspections conducted by state-level regulatory bodies to confirm these claims”.
Installation of FGD in a unit for SO2 control takes about two years, which is followed by temporary shutdown of the unit for making necessary arrangements. CSE researchers have estimated the likelihood of a coal power plant meeting the emission norms on the basis of the stage of compliance and the duration in which the power plant must meet the deadline.
“Based on this methodology, we have found that despite five to eight years of extensions in deadlines, 43 per cent of the capacity (Category A, which includes plants within 10 km radius of Delhi-NCR or cities with million-plus population); 11 per cent of the capacity (Category B — within 10 km radius of critically polluted areas); and 1 per cent of the remaining capacity (Category C) are unlikely to meet the norms by the latest deadlines of 2024, 2025 and 2026, respectively,” Aggarwal added.
Yadav adds that the picture has a silver lining.
“A comparison of the likelihood of compliance between December 2021 and now shows that there has been an improvement. This can primarily be attributed to an extension in deadlines by another two years, combined with increased clarity for another 34 GW capacity, about which CEA had not been reporting until December 2021,” he says.
Region-wise and state-wise compliance status, as per the CSE analysis
1. Eastern region
None of the states in the eastern region — Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Jharkhand — have any thermal power plants (TPPs).
Except Jharkhand, the remaining four states in the eastern region have commissioned coal-based power plants of total 6,962 MW capacity after 1 January 2017.
All these plants were built without a provision for FGD systems, despite the fact that the notification had been introduced in 2015.
2. Western region
All states in this region — Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra — have some TPPs that are complying with the SO2 norms.
The Bandakhar TPP (300 MW) and Nawapara TPP (600 MW) in Chhattisgarh are reported to ‘claim to be SO2 compliant’ — but there is no evidence to justify these claims.
If the capacity of all the plants in the region is combined, the compliance level stands at 7 per cent of the total capacity in this region.
Maharashtra has the highest coal thermal capacity in the country; but only 11 per cent of the state’s capacity is currently complying with the norms.
Cumulatively, almost 6 per cent of the capacity in the three states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Maharashtra is unlikely to comply with the norms.
3. Northern region
The states and locations in this region are Delhi-NCR, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The Dadri TPP and Unchhar TPS in Uttar Pradesh and the Mahatma Gandhi TPP in Haryana (cumulative capacity of 3,150 MW) are the only plants in the northern region that are complying with the norms.
These plants account for a mere 7 per cent of the total capacity in the region.
Also, 1,025 MW capacity in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh is at a very initial stage of compliance. In the case of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, 6,440 MW capacity was commissioned after 1 January 2017, two years after the enforcement of the emission norms — yet these plants are not complying with the norms.
In the case of Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), 10,075 MW is likely to comply with the norms. Of this, 3,390 MW has awarded bids, 3,180 MW has floated tenders, 2,480 MW has finalised tender documents and 1,025 MW is still at a feasibility stage.
4. Southern region
In Karnataka, which had reported zero compliance in the December 2021 CEA status report, 260 MW now claims to be SO2 compliant.
In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, there is a substantial increase in the capacity that is likely to meet the norms.
Andhra Pradesh has the highest coal power capacity among all states in the region which would miss the deadlines; this capacity has already completed its most efficient operational life of 25 years.
Not a single power plant in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is complying with the norms till date.
The region also has the highest capacity (9,245 MW) in the country that is still exploring the feasibility of SO2 control on the premises of the plants.
Around 6,270 MW capacity was commissioned in this region after 2017 in the states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka — but these plants still do not have SO2 control measures in place.
Yadav points out that the latest National Electricity Plan (NEP) for 2022-32 justifies the lackadaisical approach of the power generation companies by putting the onus on delays in implementation of the norms on several factors.
The key ones among these are the sector’s dependency on the external market for 30 per cent of FGD components; the novelty of the technology for the Indian market; and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aggarwal says that the unlikelihood of compliance by even 1 per cent of the sector at this point is disappointing, as enough opportunities have been given to the power plants to comply with the norms.
She adds: “Any violation of the norms at this stage should be considered as a deliberate act signifying unwillingness to adhere to the norms”.
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