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Coal power plants in India struggle to bridge emission norm gap

In a recent analysis by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), it was revealed that India's coal-fired power plants are struggling

By groundreportdesk
New Update
Coal power plants in India struggle to bridge emission norm gap

In a recent analysis by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), it was revealed that India's coal-fired power plants are struggling to meet emission standards, particularly in controlling Sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2).

The CSE analysis, based on the updated status of Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) published by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), highlights the lack of progress in the implementation of air pollution control measures in this sector.

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’. Says Anubha Aggarwal, programme officer, industrial pollution unit, CSE: “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.”

The accuracy of these claims remains uncertain as no information is available regarding on-the-ground inspections conducted by state-level regulatory bodies to verify these claims.

Installation of FGD systems for SO2 control generally takes about two years, followed by a temporary shutdown of the unit to facilitate necessary repairs. Based on the compliance stage and the remaining duration to meet deadlines, CSE researchers estimate the likelihood that coal-fired power plants will meet emission standards.

Says Aggarwal: “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.”

Nivit Yadav, program manager at CSE's Industrial Pollution Unit, acknowledges a slight improvement in compliance compared to December 2021, which can be attributed to deadline extensions and greater clarity regarding 34 GW capacity that the CEA had not previously reported.

Key Highlights of the Report

  1. Newly commissioned capacity complying with norms: Only 0.81 GW out of the total 32.63 GW newly commissioned capacity is currently complying with the emission norms.
  2. Capacity likely to comply due to deadline extensions: Approximately 13 GW of capacity is now expected to comply with the norms as a result of the extended deadlines.
  3. Capacity exploring feasibility of FGD installation: Around 23 GW capacity is still in the process of assessing the feasibility of commissioning FGD systems.
  4. Capacity identified for decommissioning: Approximately 2.47 GW capacity has been marked for decommissioning, but the retirement plans for these plants are unclear.

Regional Compliance Status:

Eastern Region

  • None of the states in the eastern region, including Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Jharkhand, have any thermal power plants currently complying with the emission norms.
  • However, apart from West Bengal, thermal power plants in other states in this region are expected to meet the norms by their respective deadlines.
  • Some capacity in Odisha, Jharkhand, and West Bengal is still in the early stages of compliance, even seven years after the introduction of emission norms.

Western Region

  • All states in this region, namely Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, have some thermal power plants complying with the SO2 norms.
  • However, there is no evidence to support the claims of compliance by Bandakhar TPP (300 MW) and Nawapara TPP (600 MW) in Chhattisgarh.
  • The cumulative compliance level in the region stands at 7% of the total capacity.
  • Maharashtra, despite having the highest coal thermal capacity in the country, only has 11% of its capacity complying with the norms.
  • Cumulatively, nearly 6% of the capacity in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra is unlikely to comply with the norms.

Northern Region

  • Delhi-NCR, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh comprise the states and locations in this region.
  • The Dadri TPP and Unchhar TPS in Uttar Pradesh, along with the Mahatma Gandhi TPP in Haryana, are the only plants complying with the norms in the northern region, accounting for only 7% of the total capacity.
  • Certain capacities in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are in the initial stages of compliance.
  • Additionally, 6,440 MW capacity commissioned in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan after January 1, 2017, fails to comply with the norms.
  • In Delhi-NCR, around 10,075 MW capacity is likely to comply with the norms, while 1,025 MW is still in the feasibility stage.

Southern Region

  • In Karnataka, which previously reported zero compliance, 260 MW now claims to be SO2 compliant.
  • Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh show a substantial increase in the capacity likely to meet the norms.
  • However, no power plants in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are currently complying with the norms.
  • The region has the highest capacity in the country (9,245 MW) that is still exploring the feasibility of SO2 control measures.
  • Despite commissioning over 6,270 MW capacity after 2017, plants in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Karnataka still lack SO2 control measures.

CSE's analysis indicates that power generation companies have been slow to implement emission standards, with only 1% compliance achieved to date. The report highlights the need for strict compliance with the rules and calls any violation at this stage a deliberate act signifying an unwillingness to comply.

The analysis also raises concerns about delays in the implementation of the standards and the potential dilution of the standards. The National Electricity Plan (NEP) for 2022-32 justifies the delays citing factors such as the sector's reliance on the external market for FGD components, the novelty of the technology for the Indian market, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, CSE experts question how one or two years of a pandemic could cause delays of five to six years in the implementation process.

Furthermore, the report emphasizes that emissions from power plants extend beyond their boundaries and contribute to air pollution in surrounding areas. Calls for stricter enforcement of uniform rules and standards for all plants, regardless of location.

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