Tighter norms proposed for polluting coal-fired power plants

Centre for Science and Environment, which had published study pointing to high emissions from such power plants, calls for strict implementation of proposed standards for reducing environmental impacts of such plants

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 19 May 2015

CSE file photo by Meeta Ahlawat

In a bid to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) published a draft notification on Monday. It proposes to tighten air quality control norms and lower water use by these plants. The proposed norms are a critical step to reduce the environmental impact of the coal-based power sector, which is one of the most polluting sectors of the Indian industry.

Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which had recently released the environmental rating of the coal-based power plants  in which it had found the environmental performance of the sector below standard, has welcomed the draft notification.

Of the total pollution from the industrial sector, the coal-based power sector currently accounts for approximately 60 per cent of particulate matter (PM) emissions, 45-50 per cent of SO2 emissions, 30 per cent of NOx emissions and more than 80 per cent of mercury emissions. However, there are currently no standards to curb emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury. The only standard that exists is for particulate matter, which is quite relaxed when compared to global norms. The proposed standards released by the MoEF&CC bridges this gap.

What CSE study found

In its study of the coal-based power sector in India, CSE’s Green Rating Project (GRP) unit analysed and rated 47 coal-based thermal power plants from across the country on a variety of environmental and energy parameters. The study found existing norms for PM were way behind global standards while norms for other major air pollutants did not exist. The study had recommended tightening and establishing new norms to help cut pollution levels.

Under the proposed norms the existing plants would have to improve their pollution control technologies and all the new plants installed after January 2017 would have to meet global standards (see ‘Stringent standards).

The reduction in air pollution from the coal-based power plants is critical for achieving significant reduction in overall pollution load from the industrial sector, which will go a long way in alleviating the health impacts of the coal-based power sector, which has a disproportionate impact on the poor people. The finance minister, Arun Jaitley, in his budget speech announced  an additional cess of Rs 100 per tonne on coal in view of its pollution impact, to invest in clean generation.

Finally, the norms would require all existing cooling tower-based plants to restrict water consumption to 3.5 m3/MWh. Plants which will be set up after January, 2017 have to achieve 2.5 m3/MWh. Also, all existing plants using once-through-cooling (OTC) systems would need to replace them with cooling tower-based systems that consume no more than 4m3/MWh.  These would have a remarkable reduction in fresh water withdrawal by the thermal power plants – cumulatively, fresh water withdrawal would decrease from over 22 billion cubic metre in 2011-12 to less than 5 billion cubic metre in 2016-17, including new capacity, almost 80 per cent reduction in water withdrawal.

Taken together, these constitute a significant attempt to control pollution and water use by this key sector. Final norms are expected to be announced after a 30-day period when public and other stakeholders can send their comments and suggestions.

CSE is encouraged by the government’s initiative, but success in controlling pollution would depend on support of all stakeholders, especially the power generating industry.

Stringent standards
  • The proposed standards tighten the norms for particulate matter emissions and have also set norms for SO2, NOx and mercury emissions. India currently has no standards for SO2, NOx and mercury from coal-based power plants.
  • Compared to the existing state-of-the-art plants, the new standards would cut particulate emissions from the new plants to be installed after 2017 by 25 per cent; SO2 emissions by 90 per cent; NOx emissions by 70 per cent and mercury emissions by 75 per cent.
  • Compared to the industry-average, however, the emissions cut would be far more significant. For instance, particulate emission norm for average Indian power plants is 150 mg/Nm3. Under the proposed standards, a plant installed in 2017 would have to meet particulate standard of 30 mg/Nm3 – a reduction of 80 per cent.

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