ELEC­TRIC SHOCK

Green rat­ing of coal-based power plants in In­dia by CSE of­fers star­tling in­sights into the sec­tor

Down to Earth - - FRONT PAGE - CHAN­DRA BHUSHAN, PRIYAVRAT BHATI, SANJEEV KU­MAR KAN­CHAN, AN­GE­LINE SANGEETHA SURESH, SOUNDARAM RA­MANATHAN, AB­HISHEK RUDRA and N SAI SID­DHARTHA

Isec­tor, based pre­dom­i­nantly on coal-fired plants, is one of the most NDIA'S POWER pol­lut­ing sec­tors of In­dian in­dus­try. To high­light key en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and rate the per­for­mance of power plants, Cen­tre for Science and En­vi­ron­ment (cse) in­ten­sively stud­ied the sec­tor for two years, cov­er­ing 47 coal- and lig­nite-based ther­mal plants with a ca­pac­ity of 54 gi­gawatts (GW), half of the In­dian ca­pac­ity when the study be­gan in early 2012.cse’s as­sess­ment found glar­ing in­con­sis­ten­cies be­tween pol­lu­tion data, es­pe­cially stack emis­sions, re­ported by plants and ac­tual con­di­tions on the ground. Events like breach of ash dykes, which would be con­sid­ered dis­as­ters in other coun­tries, were taken in stride as com­mon —a num­ber of wa­ter bod­ies were found to be pol­luted with ash.

No coun­try in the world uses coal as poor in qual­ity as In­dia, so our pol­lu­tion chal­lenges are huge. But our prac­tices to over­come this chal­lenge were found want­ing. In­dia’s stan­dards for pol­lu­tion and re­source use lag far be­hind global norms, but its power plants fail to meet even such re­laxed lev­els of per­for­mance, lack­ing the ba­sic tech­nolo­gies to con­trol pol­lu­tion. With state pol­lu­tion con­trol boards un­der­staffed to mon­i­tor per­for­mance, power plants rou­tinely flout norms; nev­er­the­less,t he plants al­most al­ways re­port com­pli­ance.The sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated by the fact that the power sec­tor is a crit­i­cal sec­tor of the In­dian econ­omy. Thus, un­der the ra­tio­nale of the need for power, even the most in­ef­fi­cient and pol­lut­ing plants are al­lowed to op­er­ate. With one of the poor­est lev­els of en­ergy ac­cess and per capita con­sump­tion of elec­tric­ity, at a third of the world av­er­age,In­dia needs to rapidly ex­pand its gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity.

Coal is the fuel of choice. Be­ing plen­ti­ful and easy to mine, it pro­vides re­li­able and dis­patch­able power.Ca­pac­ity of coal-fired plants is pro­jected to dou­ble be­tween 2012 and 2022 and will con­trib­ute nearly 75 per cent of gen­er­a­tion.

Cur­rent en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices will have to be im­proved to make this in­crease ac­cept­able. Coal-based elec­tric­ity en­tails heavy costs on the en­vi­ron­ment,re­sources and health.It is re­spon­si­ble for sig­nif­i­cant emis­sions of harm­ful par­tic­u­late mat­ter and ox­ides of ni­tro­gen and sul­phur. Do­mes­tic coal’s high ash con­tent in­tro­duces ad­di­tional chal­lenges of dis­pos­ing off ash that has toxic heavy met­als.Coal-based power con­sumes large amounts of wa­ter; coal min­ing has se­vere im­pacts on land,air and wa­ter which ex­ac­er­bate the en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print of coal-based power.

In­stead of cap­tur­ing the full costs of coal-based power, In­dia’s tar­iff sys­tem sub­sidises it— land and wa­ter is pro­vided at low costs and coal is sub­sidised; weak or non-ex­is­tent pol­lu­tion

norms mean plants do not have to in­vest in pol­lu­tion abate­ment tech­nolo­gies; fi­nally, costs such as health im­pact and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, called ex­ter­nal­i­ties, are left out of the tar­iff cal­cu­la­tions. Th­ese make elec­tric­ity from coal “af­ford­able”.

AN EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL AU­DIT

Of a to­tal of 104 coal- and lig­nite-based ther­mal power plants in In­dia with a ca­pac­ity of 98 GW in early 2012, the Green Rat­ing Project (grp) team of cse as­sessed 47 plants with a ca­pac­ity of 54 GW (see ‘Re­port card’ on fac­ing page). The sam­ple was cho­sen to present a com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of the sec­tor, with wide rep­re­sen­ta­tions from all re­gions, types of own­er­ships (Cen­tral, state and pri­vate), com­pa­nies and unit sizes (see ‘Rat­ing process’). The grp team con­sid­ered only the gen­er­a­tion phase—from the en­try of coal in­side the plant bound­ary till the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric- ity—to as­sess the plants. Although coal min­ing has sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts, it was not con­sid­ered be­cause it re­quires in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment.

Over­all, 46 per cent of the se­lected plants agreed to par­tic­i­pate in the rat­ings, which means they sub­mit­ted de­tailed data and al­lowed the grp team to visit the plant and au­dit its per­for­mance (see ‘Shy of public scru­tiny’). grp sur­vey­ors vis­ited all of the 47 plants, spend­ing sev­eral days at each, and con­ducted ex­ten­sive in­ter­views of all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing com­mu­nity, me­dia, ngos, pol­lu­tion con­trol board of­fi­cials and plant em­ploy­ees. They also col­lected ex­ten­sive data from sec­ondary, pub­licly-avail­able sources for both par­tic­i­pat­ing and non-par­tic­i­pat­ing plants to pre­pare pro­files of in­di­vid­ual plants.

All com­pa­nies that were se­lected, were rated ir­re­spec­tive of their par­tic­i­pa­tion to make sure the ex­er­cise was ob­jec­tive and un­bi­ased. Com­pa­nies were an­a­lysed with ref­er­ence to global best prac­tices and In­dian av­er­ages. A tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sory panel con­sist­ing of top in­dus­try and pol­lu­tion ex­perts over­saw the en­tire process to en­sure cred­i­bil­ity. They in­clude B Sen­gupta, for­mer mem­ber sec­re­tary, Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board; Av­inash Chan­dra, for­mer pro­fes­sor and head of Cen­tre for En­ergy Stud­ies, In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, New Delhi; Umesh S Ba­pat, for­mer vice pres­i­dent of Op­er­a­tions Eastern Re­gion, Tata Power; and Y P Abbi, for­mer direc­tor of Power Sta­tion En­gi­neer­ing, Bharat Heavy Elec­tri­cals Ltd.

grp rated the sec­tor on about 60 key pa­ram­e­ters which were as­signed weigh­tages depend­ing on their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts (see ‘Weigh­tage as­signed...’). Re­source use and pol­lu­tion were as­signed equally high weigh­tages.

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