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