STUDY reveals India’s 70 percent coal-based power plants may not meet the 2022 deadline to be emission-free: CSE

about-Sunita Narain

India’s coal-fired power plants have a task ahead – they must meet stringent new emission norms by 2022  which were set in December 2015 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. But a new study report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) finds that with barely two years to go before the deadline hits them, almost 70 percent of the plants will not meet the emission standards. Given the thrust of the Indian government to expedite and enhance coal mining in the country, “our study gains urgency”, say CSE researchers. “We cannot accept that we will continue to use coal without emission control. We want growth post-lockdown, but it has to be a growth that comes with our right to clean air. This must be equally important. “Coal-based Power Norms: Where do we stand today – as the CSE report is titled – was released at an online event anchored by CSE director general Sunita Narain. The study report presents a comprehensive assessment of the progress in the implementation of the environmental norms for coal-based thermal power plants. Says Narain: “Our assessment finds that even after seven years since the notification and even after the agreed five-year extension given to this sector in 2017, most of the total installed coal-fired capacity will not be compliant with the crucial sulfur dioxide (SO2) standards by 2022”. Furthermore, there is little information in the public domain about compliance with PM or NOx standards and certainly, there is no direction to the thermal power plants that they must meet the crucial water standards, which would make this water-guzzling sector more responsible on its usage. Coal-fired power plants are some of the most polluting industries in the country. They account for over 60 percent of the total particulate matter (PM) emissions from all industries, as well as 45 percent of the SO2, 30 percent of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and over 80 percent of the mercury emissions. Therefore, even as we continue using coal, India’s thermal power sector must clean up its act. This is absolutely non-negotiable, adds Narain. What the CSE study report found about the coal-based power sector: With 56 percent of generation capacity being based on it, coal is the mainstay of India’s power sector, says the CSE study. Besides being accountable for emissions of pollutants like SO2 etc, the sector is also extremely water-intensive – it is responsible for 70 percent of total freshwater withdrawal by all industries in the country. A 2015 CSE study called Heat on Power had highlighted the huge scope for improvement in the sector’s environmental performance and had recommended tightening of norms to bring down pollution levels. In December 2015, the MoEF&CC introduced stricter environmental standards. Says the CSE report: “The 2015 standards are in line with global regulations. According to rough estimates, their implementation can cut down emissions of PM by 35 percent, SO2 by 80 percent, and NOx by 42 percent. They can also bring down freshwater use by the industry. “The sector, however, has been far from forthcoming in accepting the norms. The industry tried to first obstruct and prevaricate on the 2015 standards. The deadline for meeting them was moved from 2017 to 2022 – but the sector continues to remain in its state of sloth.

Says Sundaram Ramanathan, deputy program manager, industrial pollution unit, CSE, and one of the writers behind the report: “The CSE report has structured its content to enable an easy understanding of the subject – from providing an overview of the standards and a chronology and progress of the implementation process, to giving updates on phasing out of old plants and rules for new ones. It also offers recommendations.”

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