For instance, equipment such as the low NOx burner typically requires a month for installation. An esp requires three to six months. Even the fgd, which requires the longest time of around two years, could have easily been installed by the deadline. In addition, a sizeable number of power plants should already be meeting the new norms. Over the past decade, environmental clearances (ECs) have steadily tightened PM standards, which remain unchanged for a large share of coal-based power capacity. The timelines were deliberately ambitious given the scale of the pollution problem.
ntpc Limited is one of the few companies that appear to have made noteworthy progress. Alind Rastogi, executive director (environment), ntpc, says their plants will meet the PM and water norms by the deadline. But most other plants have decided to either wait or actively lobby to have the norms postponed or diluted. A cse survey reveals little progress over the past two years—many plants have not even correctly assessed their emissions or taken expert opinion on what pollution control upgradation they may need. State pollution control boards (spcbs) are not monitoring the implementation progress and have not taken any penal action yet. Nor have the power regulators, such as cea, taken any steps to expedite implementation. No wonder plants are seeking extra time. cse reviewed the timelines fixed by the four regional power committees formed by cea for the installation of pollution control equipment and found that only around 10 per cent of plants will install or upgrade their equipment in the next three years (see ‘Tardy implementation’, p20).
In this regard, there is a lot to learn from China’s implementation of tighter norms for its coal power sector. It established national norms in 2012, and gave new plants just five months to comply. Old plants were given three years. The rationale for such short deadlines was that stakeholders Compared with the business as usual (BAU) scenario, meeting the new environmental norms will result in 65-85% lower emissions by 2026-27 Particulate matter in mt Sulphur dioxide in mt Oxides of nitrogen in mt were already discussing pollution control by power plants and the plants knew that new norms were imminent. Hence, they were expected to be prepared. As pollution levels grew to alarming levels, China introduced even tighter norms for key critical regions with shorter timelines. In such cases, extending timelines is acceptable, but it should be subject to firm commitments and penalties. Based on China’s timelines and feedback from equipment manufacturers, regulators should demand that esp upgradation be finished in the next two years and fgd installation by 2020.
Technology not a constraint
Indian plants have reasoned that the poor quality of Indian coal makes it difficult for them to meet the norms. Burning it produces lots of ash, so PM cannot be cut to the levels required by the new norms, they said. Pollution control experts disagree with this conclusion. In fact, globally, many plants that are using similar coal have achieved even lower emissions by increasing the size of esps.
Some experts say Indian coal is low in sulphur and produces little SO2, therefore, SO2 norms are unnecessary. Given the huge increase in power generation, total SO2 emissions have also increased exponentially and emission levels of an individual plant are no longer relevant. Others raise concerns about the lack of space for fgds. However, fgds are needed only by largersized units since they have to meet the tighter SO2 norms. A vast majority of these units were commissioned after 2008 when ECs routinely asked them to allot space for future installation of fgd.
Similarly, most existing plants will face little difficulty in meeting NOx norms. Adding low-NOx burners or optimising combustion in boilers are relatively easy modifications to both improve efficiency and cut NOx. Upcoming plants will need to install selective catalytic reduction (scr) units. While equipment manufacturers claim this technology will work in India, ntpc Limited is running pilot tests to confirm its efficiency and suitability.
The power industry has argued that the new norms were neither reasonable nor required. But cse estimates turn the argument on its head. Implementation of the norms will cut pollutants from coal-based power plants by 65-85 per cent by 2027 (see ‘Big benefits’). Without the new norms, we are looking at a massive increase in toxic emissions from the sector and a looming health hazard.
A review of the timelines fixed by the four regional power committees formed by the Central Electricity Agency shows that only around 10 per cent of coalbased power plants will install or upgrade their pollution control equipment in the next three years