Stuck on coal: CSE finds little progress by Delhi-NCR power plants in using biomass pellets

New notification by MoEF&CC has given plants more leeway to delay meeting the co-firing directives; supply demand gap may be fuelling slow progress

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 16 March 2023
Coal is to be replaced with densified biomass, called pellets, by 5-10 per cent by weight, according to a policy by Centre issued in 2021. Photo: iStock__

Less than one per cent of the coal consumed every year by power plants in the National Capital Region has been replaced with agro-residues until December 2022, New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found.

The Union Ministry of Power (MoP) mandated the use of biomass residue for co-firing in coal-based thermal power plants in October 2021.

CSE has carried out a study on the 11 coal-based plants in NCR to understand the status of biomass co-firing and the reasons limiting its uptake. The report, Status of Biomass Co-firing in Coal-based Thermal Power Plants in Delhi-NCR, was published March 9, 2023 and found little progress on complying with official directives.

The directive by the central ministry was introduced to address the twin challenges of curbing emissions from coal power plants and pollution from burning crop residue. Coal is to be replaced with densified biomass, called pellets, by 5-10 per cent by weight, according to the policy.

Read more: Paddy straw pellets: How environment ministry’s cost estimates are way off mark

Power plants seeking exemptions from co-firing are required to submit their case to the Central Electricity Authority for consideration. However, co-firing is being carried out intermittently based on biomass availability, CSE’s field survey found.

Moreover, a February 2023 notification by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India has given these plants more leeway to delay meeting the directives. The new notification has pushed the deadlines for compliance by two more years and limited the percentage of co-firing to five per cent.

The 11 coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR were also given a separate direction by the Commission on Air Quality Management (CAQM) in September 2021 to co-fire biomass, stated a CSE press release.

Any non-adherence to the CAQM directive is considered an offence ‘punishable with imprisonment’ for a term that may extend up to five years or with a fine of up to Rs 1 crore or both as per the CAQM Act, 2021.

“As had happened with the emission norms, the new notification has diluted the norms and pushed the deadlines for biomass co-firing, absolving the coal-based power plants from taking the onus of slow uptake of the policy implementation,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution, CSE.

Read more: IQAir Report: Take the findings with a pinch of salt, says expert

Several key reasons may be behind the slow progress of co-firing. Keeping a check on the escalating cost of biomass pellets and providing more clarity when it comes to regulatory mechanisms are two measures that can help implement the mandate, the report suggested.

There is also a huge supply-demand gap, with a lack of reliable long-term supply of pellets. In Delhi-NCR, the cumulative capacity of pellet manufacturers is approximately 2,500 tonnes a day, whereas the demand is twice that.

The manufacturers find selling biomass or agricultural residues to industries more lucrative and less tedious.

The tender process is also time taking — power plants in Delhi-NCR have issued long-term tenders for approximately 12 million tonnes of biomass pellets; however, 73 per cent of these tenders are yet to be awarded, government records show.

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