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New Delhi, March 16, 2023: Many of the coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR have made very little progress on complying with official directives – finds a new study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). To add to this, a recent (February 2023) notification by the environment ministry has given these plants more leeway to delay meeting the directives.
In October 2021, the Union Ministry of Power had mandated the plants to replace five-10 per cent of the coal they use for electricity generation with biomass or agricultural residues. This was done to address the twin challenge of stubble burning and emissions from coal-based thermal power plants. These plants had to achieve five per cent of co-firing by September 2022, and escalate it to seven per cent the following year.
However, hardly any progress has been made by the plants in Delhi-NCR to comply.
The11 coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR, in addition to adhering to the Ministry’s policy, were also given a separate direction by the Commission on Air Quality Management (CAQM) in September 2021 to co-fire biomass. Any non-adherence to the CAQM directive is considered an offense ‘punishable with imprisonment’ for a term that may extend upto five years or with fine of upto Rs 1 crore or both as per the CAQM Act, 2021.
CSE has carried out a study to understand the status of biomass co-firing in the coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR. Says Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution, CSE: “Our study shows that cumulatively,less than onepercent of the coal consumed per annum in these 11 plants had been replaced with agro-residues until December 2022.”The report – Status of Biomass Co-firing in Coal-based Thermal Power Plants in Delhi-NCR – is available for free download on the CSE website.
Key findings of the CSE study
Huge supply-demand gap: Supply of biomass pellets is a key concern.The power plants surveyed by CSEhave pointed out that they do not have reliable long-term supply of pellets. The Indira Gandhi thermal power plant in Jhajjar, Haryana, has invited manufacturers to set up a biomass pellet making unit on its premises, but the facility is yet to come up. Says Yadav, “There is a gap in demand and supply as there are a limited number of pellet manufacturers in the country.”In Delhi-NCR, the cumulative capacity of pellet manufacturers is approximately 2,500 tonnea day, whereas the demand is twice that.
Supplying to industries more lucrative: The manufacturers find selling biomass or agricultural residues to industries more lucrative and less tedious. They claim that the tenders issued by the power plants are not being awarded on purpose and the process is being delayed unnecessarily.
Government records show that power plants in Delhi-NCR have issued long-term tenders for approximately 12 million tonne of biomass pellets; however, 73 per cent of these tenders are yet to be awarded. Until December 2022, the power plants under the ownership of Haryana state government— the Rajiv Gandhi TPP, Yamuna Nagar TPP, and Panipat TPP – have issued both short-term and long-term tenders, but none of these orders have been awarded. The Mahatma Gandhi TPP, Dadri TPP, and Indira Gandhi TPP are the only coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR that have successfully placed long-term orders by December 2022.
In addition to this, the study reveals that in five of the 11 plants— the Panipat TPP, Mahatma Gandhi TPP, Nabha TPP, Ropar TPP, and Guru Hargobind TPP -- the tenders issued for biomass pellets are of much lesser quantity than required for replacement of 5 per cent of the coal-based fuel for ‘actual’ generation of electricity in the financial year April 2021–March 2022.
Ambiguity regarding ERC regulations-The study also reveals that some of the power plants –such as Panipat and Rajiv Gandhi TPPs – have tried to get an exemption from complying with the policy on co-firing biomass by appealing to the Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC) of Haryana. The Commission has denied the request.
State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERC) have only recently clarified their position on passing through the cost of complying with this mandate. Costs incurred by the plants for co-firing biomass (that is, the cost of biomass pellets, which is twice the cost of domestic coal) will be passed on to consumers – ‘pass-through' is the term officially used for this transfer of cost. According to the CSE report, the status of passing through is clear in the case of Centrally-managedplants, as well as plants in Punjab and Haryana. However, the study could not find any information that could clarify the position of the Uttar Pradesh ERC.
Says Yadav: “There is an obvious reluctance in adhering to the policy on biomass co-firing by the power plants in Delhi-NCR. Theseplants are co-firing biomass only intermittently. A majority of the plants are apprehensive about the supply chain issues and have not taken any strong measures that will build the confidence of the pellet manufacturers or ease their concerns.”
New notification by MoEF&CC on biomass co-firing
After almost one and a half year of the directive issued by the Ministry of Power and the CAQM – and after the lapse of the deadline in September 2022 -- the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has released a new notification on biomass co-firing on February 16, 2023. The new notification has pushed the deadlines for compliance by two more years and limited the percentage of co-firing to fivepercent.
Says Yadav: “CSE has been raising the issue of the slow uptake of biomass co-firing by engaging with the government officials as well as in public discourse. The attention being brought by CSE to the issue has probably pushed authorities to come up with the latest draft notification – but the deadline for compliance with biomass co-firing has been further moved from September 2022 to 2024-25. The MoEF&CChas limited the co-firing percentage to half of what was asked to be achieved by power plants in due course of time.”
“Ashad 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 the taking the onus of slow uptake of the policy implementation,” adds Yadav.
For more on this, please contact Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8816818864.