Waste-to-energy plant in Vijaywada shuts down

By Minti Jain
Published: Saturday 31 March 2007

in yet another indictment of incineration technology, the waste-to-energy plant at Vijayawada recently stopped operations. There is now no functional incineration-based waste-to-energy plant in the country. The closure of the 6-mw Shriram Energy Systems Limited plant in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh's Krishna district, raises serious questions about this technology, which is promoted and heavily subsidised by the Union ministry of new and renewable energy (mnre).
Open and shut? Views on when the plant had shut down differ. "I visited the plant on March 3 and found it closed. There were no workers, only a watchman. Most people believe the plant has been shut for the past 60 days," said Uday Singh Gautam, an advocate and activist from Vijayawada. Local people have different estimates, but they agree it's been shut for two to six months.

While confirming the plant was not operational, Natrajan Gulzar, commissioner of Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (vmc), said the closure was temporary and caused by financial problems. "It will resume operations in a few days," added C Karthik, deputy executive engineer, vmc.

Shriram's managing director Gopala Krishna Murthy said the plant had shut down due to a boiler problem and would reopen very soon. "The plant is highly irregular in its functioning. It stays closed for long durations," says R Sobha, additional secretary, Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board.
Faulty technology? The project was commissioned in December 2003. It used to supply 40 million units of electricity a day to AP Transco, Andhra Pradesh's power distributor, at the rate of Rs 3.5 per unit. vmc had leased out about 4 hectares to Shriram for a nominal fee. At that time the land was on the outskirts of the city. Since then many slums have come up in the area and residents complain of dust and noxious smell from open dumping of garbage next to the plant.

The company got loans at a subsidised rate from the centre. Shriram promised to take 225 tonnes/day of municipal solid waste from vmc and process it to produce fuel-grade pellets to power the plant along with 25-30 per cent feedstock--rice husk and wood chips. This complied with the mnre's upper permissible limit of 30 per cent feedstock. But incineration plants hardly stick to this limit.

The plant at Vijayawada was infact found to be using 52 per cent rice husk and wood chips, according to a "differing report" by two members of the 2005 Supreme Court committee studying the performance of waste-to-energy plants. Others put the figure between 75 per cent and 100 per cent. "In December, when authorities inspected the Shriram plant, they found it running entirely on rice husk," said an AP Transco official.

The differing report had also questioned the data provided by Shriram that showed that fuel pellets had high calorific values during monsoons. The plant had, in fact, not been running then, says Karthik, since the waste could not be dried. The company also lost feedstock because the low-lying plant was flooded.

The recent closure of Vijayawada plant establishes that incineration is not an option to deal with municipal garbage. Indian waste has a low calorific value, about 1,000 kilo calories (kcal), compared to the minimum requirement of 2,000 kcal. Almitra Patel, a member of the Committee for Solid Waste Management appointed by the Supreme Court in 2000, explains that Indian garbage has a greater moisture and debris content and is thus unsuitable for incineration. Non-segregation of garbage adds to the problem.

More waste
Already dogged by problems--high costs of segregation and mechanical wear and tear, detailed in a report on solid waste management by Asit Nema of the Delhi-based ngo Foundation for Greentech Environmental Systems--Shriram's plant found itself confronting more waste in late 2006.

Around that time, a composting plant in its vicinity run by the Mumbai-based Excel Industries Limited closed down. vmc then started putting pressure on the Shriram plant to take the additional waste, says Gautam.

The problems in the Shriram plant has had a cascading effect on Vijayawada's waste disposal. "During my visit, I saw two lorries full of waste being dumped on the plant premises," says Gautam.

Municipal authorities, however, have another version. "Waste is being dumped at four different sites outside the city far away from habitation," says Karthik. Such open dumping is in contravention of the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000. In defence of the corporation, Karthik says it has no options.

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