Pollution: Why coal-based power plants are unlikely to comply with new emission norms
New Delhi, Nov 17: The coal-based power plants are known for causing enormous amount of air pollution. At a time when Delhi and the entire North region of the country are battling high levels of air pollution, the question that comes to mind--are these plants going to comply with new emission norms enacted by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC)?
Experts say it looks highly unlikely. The new emission norms for coal-based power plants are scheduled to come into effect from December this year, but environmental activists fear that most of these plants will not comply with the regulations.
The environmental activists have blamed the ministry of power (MoP) for letting the coal-based power plants avoid complying with the environmental-friendly norms.
Experts suggest that ambitious timelines backed by strict penalties from the environment ministry needed to prevent further delay in compliance by these plants.
An analysis done by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) shows most power plants have not even started the planning process, which, at the very least, should include an assessment of the required pollution control technology and investment.
The CSE alleged that the power ministry and Central Electricity Authority (CEA) have consistently tried to push the deadline instead of forcing companies to install pollution control equipment.
"The MoP and the CEA have supported industry excuses such as inadequate space for pollution control equipment and exaggerated costs," stated the CSE report.
In fact, the CEA has recommended thermal power stations to be given an additional five years (i.e. the deadline be extended from 2017 to 2022) to comply.
However, environmental experts say that such delay in compliance is not acceptable as the sector has extremely high air pollution impact.
The CSE has proposed an alternate plan to the environment ministry and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to tighten deadlines and meet standards in a staggered fashion between 2018 and 2020. The CSE has also recommended the new schedule be backed by strong penal action in case of slippage.
The new norms were enacted by the MoEF&CC in December 2015 in view of the coal sector's massive contribution to air pollution and its huge water withdrawal.
Of the total emissions from the industrial sector, the power sector alone contributes 60 per cent of the PM (particulate matter), 45 per cent of the Sox (sulphur dioxide), 30 per cent of the NOx (nitrogen oxides) and 80 per cent of the mercury emissions.
Al though the industry was given two years to comply, there has been very little progress so far. The norms come into effect from December 2017, but the CEA is now recommending that plants be given another five years (which means the deadline should be extended from 2017 to 2022) to comply with the new norms.
Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the CSE, said: "Another five years to meet these standards is unacceptable. Power plants have already wasted two years doing virtually nothing. It is important to push for ambitious timelines for compliance with the new norms. The environment ministry needs to come up with a tight implementable deadline and a concrete roadmap for each and every plant to ensure compliance."
He added: "Implementing the new norms will provide significant environmental benefits -- major pollutants from coal-based power plants such as SOx and NOx will be cut by 70-85 per cent."
The MoP and the CEA have consistently objected to these norms and their deadlines. They have supported the industry in its stiff opposition to these norms.
"The CEA's own reports show that issues raised by the industry such as lack of technology suppliers, suitability of technology for Indian coal, high capital costs, and tariff impact of the pollution control technology measures can be easily managed, and are not serious impediments.
"It is inconceivable why the CEA and the ministry have still done very little to oversee and push implementation of the new norms," said Priyavrat Bhati, programme director-energy, the CSE.
The CSE cites that the CEA's 2022 plan has glaring weaknesses. The plan submitted by the CEA to implement the standards by 2022 suffers from many shortcomings:
There is no clarity on the pollution control technology needed by plants. Most plants have done very little to even assess their technology needs or the investment required, let alone begin the projects to install pollution control equipment.
For instance, the CEA is asking all plants to install FGD (flue gas desulphurisation) to control SOx emissions. The CSE's analysis shows that it is not required for smaller and older units.
The plan is heavily back-loaded. Most plants will do nothing for the next two-three years. They will start putting equipments only from 2020 onwards. There is a major risk that in 2020 the sector will again ask for an extension.
The CEA plan is not backed by written commitments from power stations to install new equipment.
What the CSE has proposed:
The CSE recommends that an aggressive timeline needs to be pursued, considering the gravity of the problem. It has also proposed that plants located in densely or critically polluted areas must be prioritised. According to CSE's proposal:
The CEA's own report suggests that about 65 per cent of the capacity meet PM standards. These plants should produce evidence of compliance by December 2017.
However, if some of the plants exceed the norms by a small margin, they could do minor retrofits to meet PM norms by March 2018. The remaining one-third capacity should meet PM norms by March 2019.
About 50 per cent of the capacity is estimated to be complying with NOx norms based on emissions data from the CPCB and industry experts. The remaining can meet the norms during annual maintenance over the next two years by December 2019.
About 50 per cent of the capacity should meet SOx norms by December 2019 and the remaining, by December 2020.
"Our analysis shows that these are achievable. But to ensure that there are no further delays, the environment ministry should back these timelines with penalties and bank guarantees," said Bhati.
"These standards can be met with less than 3 per cent annual increase in the electricity tariff for the next three years. In comparison, in the last five years, electricity tariff in India has increased by 8 per cent annually. This is a low price to pay for a significant gain in environmental and health benefits," added Bhushan.