Almost seven years since the notification, not even 7 per cent of India’s coal capacity meets the standards issued by the MoEF&CC
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), in its 2015 notification, introduced emission norms for coal-based thermal power plants (TPP).
The TPPs were given a deadline of December 2017 to mandatorily comply with the norms for SO2, NOx, PM, Hg and water.
Almost seven years since the notification, not even 7 per cent of India’s coal capacity meets the standards issued by the MoEF&CC.
Central Electricity Authority (CEA) — nodal agency under the Ministry of Power to monitor implementation of 2015 norms — only reports on compliance status of SO2 while other parameters go unreported.
The progress of SO2 compliance is measured in terms of the status of installation of flue gas desulfurisation (FGD) unit that removes SO2 from plant stack.
The lack of information on other parameters has led to the ‘installation of FGD’ becoming the yardstick for compliance with emission norms.
The cost implications and the unavailability of equipment in the case of FGD and demand for location specific SO2 standards, have often been used as ‘reasonable grounds’ to dissuade compliance with emission norms in the past.
These strategies have completely disregarded the possibility of compliance with the other parameters within the pre-fixed deadlines.
With this as a premise, MoEF&CC, vide another notification in March 2021, revised the deadline for meeting the norms.
The revised notification advocated for differentiated deadlines for power plants disaggregated into three categories — Category A, Category B and Category C — based on their locations.
Almost four months untill the deadline, a whopping 47 per cent of 20,637 MW coal power capacity under Category A is still not in a position to commission FGD even in another two years.
Another 7 per cent of this capacity is reported ‘to be decommissioned.’
However, decommissioning power plants often meet with resistance due to socio-economic and political conflicts. These plants will keep spewing pollution under the pretext of of being decommissioned soon.
Interestingly, unlike the plausible likelihood of violation by huge coal capacity under Category A, a 77 per cent of the coal capacity under Category B is likely to install FGD by 2023. However, further analysis shows the precarious balance that these plants are in with respect to the installation of FGD.
More than half of this capacity that is likely to comply by the stipulated deadline has not yet identified the successful contractor for the commissioning of FGD.
It takes approximately 1.5 years for its installation. Therefore, it is improbable that these plants will meet the norms if orders for FGD are not placed for the 10,360 MW by the end of December 2022.
The status for 8 per cent of the capacity in category B is reported as ‘claims to be SO2 compliant’ by CEA in its monthly update for July 2022.
It is not clear how these plants have been able to meet the strict SO2 standards without the installation of the recognised air pollution control device.
Some circulating fluidised bed combustion-based (CFBC) plants too ‘exceed limit’ and need to install FGD, noted a recent study by IIT Delhi and the Central Electricity Authority.
In the case of Category-C plants, 75 per cent of the capacity is likely to meet the norms. Sixteen per cent of the capacity is unlikely to meet the standards by 2024.
Some 24,154 MW has only completed the feasibility study for installation of FGD and another 1,370 MW have not even initiated the process.
There is no reason why these plants are at the first stage of compliance despite it being seven years since the norms were introduced.
Uncertainty in reporting of compliance status by CEA
CEA has not given the compliance status of 5,584 MW coal thermal power plants with CFBC boilers.
Some of these plants are shown to exceed limits in CEA’s report published in July 2022. Therefore, CEA needs to clarify if these plants are meeting the emission norms or not.
For the plants to be decommissioned, CEA must ensure that the plant does not run beyond its decommissioning plan and is only run on emergency basis until it is decommissioned to limit pollution from it.
Apart from the aforementioned plants, a 33,766 MW capacity is at the feasibility stage. It implies that these plants have not taken any significant step towards complying with the emission norms despite emission norms being in existence for seven years now.
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