Will coal-based thermal power plants ever meet emission norms?

New state-level analysis by CSE of compliance with sulphur dioxide emission norms throws up alarming indications of feet-dragging by the sector 

Only 5 per cent of capacity meeting the norms currently. Plants in all the eastern states are non-compliant. Very few plants in the remaining regions are meeting the norms, says the CSE analysis  

For free download of CSE’s report click here  

New Delhi, June 23, 2023: India’s coal-based thermal power plants continue to drag their feet in meeting emission norms, says a new analysis done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions are a case in point: the CSE analysis finds that a mere 5 per cent of the installed capacity in this sector has put in place an air pollution control device – flue gas de-sulfurization (FGD) system -- for controlling SO2 emissions. 

The CSE analysis is based on the updated FGD status released by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the technical arm of the Union Ministry of Power, for April 2023. 

Says Nivit Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution unit, CSE: “The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had issued a notification specifying the emission norms for coal-based power plants way back in December 2015. Since then, the norms have been diluted for several parameters and deadlines delayed.” 

As per the CSE analysis, the 5 per cent of plants that have so far installed FGDs for controlling SO2 emissions include 9,280 MW that have been reported to have commissioned FGDs and another 1,430 MW that ‘claim to be SO2 compliant’. Says Anubha Aggarwal, programme officer, industrial pollution unit, CSE: “How far these claims are true is difficult to say, considering that there is no information available about on-ground inspections conducted by state-level regulatory bodies to confirm these claims.” 

Installation of FGD in a unit for SO2 control takes about two years, which is followed by temporary shutdown of the unit for making necessary arrangements. CSE researchers have estimated the likelihood of a coal power plant meeting the emission norms on the basis of the stage of compliance and the duration in which the power plant must meet the deadline. 

Says Aggarwal: “Based on this methodology, we have found that despite five to eight years of extensions in deadlines, 43 per cent of the capacity (Category A, which includes plants within 10 km radius of Delhi-NCR or cities with million-plus population); 11 per cent of the capacity (Category B -- within 10 km radius of critically polluted areas); and 1 per cent of the remaining capacity (Category C) are unlikely to meet the norms by the latest deadlines of 2024, 2025 and 2026, respectively.” 

Yadav adds that the picture has a silver lining. “A comparison of the likelihood of compliance between December 2021 and now shows that there has been an improvement. This can primarily be attributed to an extension in deadlines by another two years, combined with increased clarity for another 34 GW capacity, about which CEA had not been reporting until December 2021,” he says. 

Some highlights of the report    

  • Only 0.81 GW of the 32.63 GW newly commissioned capacity is complying with the norms.
  • Approximately 13 GW is now likely to comply because of the extension in deadline.
  • Approximately 23 GW capacity is still exploring the feasibility of commissioning FGD in its premises.
  • Approximately 2.47 GW is identified to be decommissioned, but the retirement plans of these plants are unclear. 

Region-wise and state-wise compliance status, as per the CSE analysis 

Eastern region

  • None of the states in the eastern region -- Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Jharkhand – have any thermal power plants that (TPPs) are at present complying with the emission norms. Although, apart from West Bengal, TPPs in all other states in this region are likely to meet the norms by their respective deadlines.
  • As per the CSE analysis, Southern REPL TPS and Hiranmaye TPS (total capacity of 435 MW) in West Bengal will miss the deadline.
  • Another 3,365 MW capacity belonging to Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal is still at the very initial stages of compliance -- seven years after the emission norms were introduced.
  • Except Jharkhand, the remaining four states in the eastern region have commissioned coal-based power plants of total 6,962 MW capacity after January 1, 2017. All these plants were built without a provision for FGD systems, despite the fact that the notification had been introduced in 2015. 

Western region

  • All states in this region – Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra – have some TPPs that are complying with the SO2
  • The Bandakhar TPP (300 MW) and Nawapara TPP (600 MW) in Chhattisgarh are reported to ‘claim to be SO2 compliant’ – but there is no evidence to justify these claims.
  • If the capacity of all the plants in the region is combined, the compliance level stands at 7 per cent of the total capacity in this region.
  • Maharashtra has the highest coal thermal capacity in the country; but only 11 per cent of the state’s capacity is currently complying with the norms.
  • Cumulatively, almost 6 per cent of the capacity in the three states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Maharashtra is unlikely to comply with the norms.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, apart from the plants that are complying, or have CFBC boilers, or have been identified for decommissioning, the remaining capacity (72,310 MW) is likely to meet the norms by the deadlines. 

Northern region

  • The states and locations in this region are Delhi-NCR, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The Dadri TPP and Unchhar TPS in Uttar Pradesh and the Mahatma Gandhi TPP in Haryana (cumulative capacity of 3,150 MW) are the only plants in the northern region that are complying with the norms.
  • These plants account for a mere 7 per cent of the total capacity in the region.
  • Also, 1,025 MW capacity in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh is at a very initial stage of compliance. In the case of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, 6,440 MW capacity was commissioned after January 1, 2017, two years after the enforcement of the emission norms -- yet these plants are not complying with the norms.
  • In the case of Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), 10,075 MW is likely to comply with the norms. Of this, 3,390 MW has awarded bids, 3,180 MW has floated tenders, 2,480 MW has finalised tender documents and 1,025 MW is still at a feasibility stage.
  • The Panipat TPS (710 MW), owned by the state-run Haryana Power Generation Corporation Ltd (HPGCL), is unlikely to meet the 2024 deadline as the plant is yet to award a work order for FGD commissioning. 

Southern region

  • In Karnataka, which had reported zero compliance in the December 2021 CEA status report, 260 MW now claims to be SO2
  • In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, there is a substantial increase in the capacity that is likely to meet the norms.
  • Andhra Pradesh has the highest coal power capacity among all states in the region which would miss the deadlines; this capacity has already completed its most efficient operational life of 25 years.
  • The Dr Narla Tata Rao TPS, Vizag TPP (Andhra Pradesh), Muthiara TPP, North Chennai TPS (Tamil Nadu), and the Thoothukudi Station-IV TPS (Telangana) are likely to miss the deadlines.
  • Not a single power plant in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is complying with the norms till date.
  • The region also has the highest capacity (9,245 MW) in the country that is still exploring the feasibility of SO2 control on the premises of the plants.
  • Around 6,270 MW capacity was commissioned in this region after 2017 in the states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka – but these plants still do not have SO2 control measures in place. 

Yadav points out that the latest National Electricity Plan (NEP) for 2022-32 justifies the lackadaisical approach of the power generation companies by putting the onus on delays in implementation of the norms on several factors. The key ones among these are the sector’s dependency on the external market for 30 per cent of FGD components; the novelty of the technology for the Indian market; and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Yadav says: “It is unclear how one or two years of the pandemic would contribute to delaying the implementation process by five-six years. On top of that, the NEP has advocated for different standards for plants in different locations. It will not be surprising if we see another extension in the deadline soon; or worse, diluted norms for several plants.” 

He adds: “The exhaust from any industry, including power plants, is not restricted to the plant’s boundaries. Depending on wind direction, wind speed and other meteorological factors, it spreads far and wide and contributes to air pollution in the neighbouring vicinity.”

Aggarwal says that the unlikelihood of compliance by even 1 per cent of the sector at this point is disappointing, as enough opportunities have been given to the power plants to comply with the norms. She adds: “Any violation of the norms at this stage should be considered as a deliberate act signifying unwillingness to adhere to the norms.” 

For further details, interviews etc, please contact: Sukanya Nair, sukanya.nair@cseindia.org, 8816818864.