CAQM’s focus on captive thermal power plants in Delhi-NCR a welcome step, but challenges ahead

Several industries Down To Earth spoke to were unaware of the new order or were perplexed about the technical feasibility of it in their captive power plants    

By Anubha Aggarwal
Published: Thursday 23 March 2023
Close deadlines make it tricky for captive power plants to meet the mandate in time. Representative photo: iStock.

The Commission for Air Quality Management in Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) has been actively engaged in bringing down the air pollution levels in the NCR. The commission, in its latest direction issued on March 17, 2023, mandated co-generation and captive coal thermal power plants (CPP) to co-fire biomass pellets to address the twin challenges of stubble burning and emissions from coal combustion in the NCR.

Also read: Commission for Air Quality Management orders phase-out of coal in Delhi-NCR by January 1, 2023

CPPs provide localised sources of power, typically to industrial facilities. Replacing a specified quantity of coal with biomass or agri-residue in power generation is expected to control emissions from these plants.

Unlike its earlier direction issued for the non-captive TPPs in September 2021, the latest direction has specified strict deadlines for the CPPs. The 2021 direction given for the 11 thermal power plants in NCR did not define set targets and deadlines for co-firing biomass in these plants.

The new direction mandates CPPs to achieve at least five per cent biomass co-firing by the end of September this year. This has to be enhanced to 10 per cent by December 2023. 

Percentage of biomass co-firing


Five percent

30th September, 2023

Ten percent

31st December, 2023

Source: CAQM direction issued on March, 17


The non-captive coal thermal power plants have demonstrated that it is feasible to burn biomass along with coal for power generation at five-ten per cent without any retrofitting in boilers.

There are also industries with captive power plants or co-generation plants that are already co-firing biomass along with coal.

Abhay Jain, director of Magnum Ventures Ltd based in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, has been operating a captive thermal power plant of 6.5 megawatts for its paper mill and has been successfully co-firing biomass pellets at 20-25 per cent annually. The biomass pellets used for the plant is usually mustard husk and other easily available agro-residue.

Also read: CSE analysis: Industries in Delhi-NCR shifting to cleaner fuels, but major roadblocks to be addressed

Of the two industries with captive power plants in the Bhiwadi industrial area, one of them — Gulshan Chemicals Pvt Ltd — is already co-firing biomass in its captive power plant, said Amit Sharma, regional officer, Bhiwadi, Rajasthan Pollution Control Board.

Apart from biomass co-firing, it is mandatory for the captive power plants to meet the emission norms as per the environment ministry’s 2015 notification. However, no records of captive power plants adhering to these standards could be traced.

The CAQM direction insisted the CPPs meet the emission norms, but it is not clear if this data will be made available in the public domain. 

Decentralised monitoring 

The direction for the co-firing in captive power plants has been shared with all the concerned pollution control boards, the Union Ministry of Power, chief secretaries of states, and additional chief secretaries of state energy departments. The respective pollution control boards are expected to be in charge of monitoring compliance with the notification.

The first report on compliance status is to be submitted to CAQM in September 2023. However, without a concerted and coordinated effort, like in the case of non-captive thermal power plants where a centralised mission was set up to monitor the progress, it remains to be seen how much biomass co-firing would fructify in the case of CPPs.

Also read: Delhi-NCR coal ban: Industrial units complain of soaring gas prices, difficulty to meet emissions standards

Though the CAQM direction is a step in the right direction, the close deadlines make it tricky for the captive power plants to meet the mandate in time. Under section 14 of the CAQM Act, 2021, the non-adherence to the CAQM direction on biomass co-firing will be considered an offence ‘punishable with imprisonment’ for a term that may extend up to five years or with a fine up to one crore or both.

Several industries Down To Earth spoke to were unaware of the new order or were perplexed about the technical feasibility of it in their captive power plants. 

In addition, the biomass is co-fired in the power plant boilers in a densified form called ‘biomass pellets’. There is an intense demand-supply gap for biomass pellets, found a study by the New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

The industries that have shifted to biomass also claim they rely on agri-residue other than paddy straw as it is not available throughout the year. Most suppliers restrain from dealing with paddy straw as it requires long-term storage. Therefore, the focus on paddy straw management can only be accomplished by keeping the practical aspects in line.  

Overall, unlike the environment ministry that delayed the deadlines for non-captive thermal power plants to meet the mandate for co-firing biomass, the CAQM direction to captive thermal power plants has strict deadlines for CPP and hopefully, like in the case of industries in the NCR where coal has been banned successfully, this too would be adhered to in the same spirit.

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